It was somewhat due. Luck and skill both evaded United today.1-2 away from home is not a disaster by any stretch but I guess it was the amateurish manner of conceding those goals that would have left the players down. On balance of play though, Bayern deserved this win. United midfield was as lost as they've ever been with the ball today. There was no composure on the ball, pass completion was very poor and hardly got a break going. Defensively we were very indecisive and it all came to bite us in the final 15. A well fought 1-2 would have felt a lot different than this and that's where the challenge lies for the team and the staff. Getting back from this one to face the biggest domestic game of the season on Saturday is a big ask. Fergie will demand a reaction. The question is will he get one? A lot has been said about the mental side of the game in this crunch phase but when you are playing 3-4 top intensity games in 2 weeks, tired legs show more easily than tired minds.
To add to Fergie's woes, Rooney is likely going to miss a few weeks of action in the best case scenario (unconfirmed). Berbatov couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to turn it around at United. If he delivers, he can enter United folklore. If not, he'll continue to find himself warming the bench in big games. United have the experience to bounce back from this. Rooney or no-Rooney, they need to pick themselves up for Saturday and show the fight. It's every players dream to be involved in fixtures like this and stay in contention at this stage of the season. Now they've got to make it count. C'mon United!
To quote Sir Alex Ferguson it is definitely "squeaky bum time" as the matches are ticked off towards the end of the season.
United's trip to Bolton will mark the start of a pivotal time in United's season which will feature two Champions League matches with Bayern Munich and a title clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford next weekend.
However, Fergie and his squad have enough experience to know they can't take their eyes off the ball and drop points against Owen Coyle's Bolton side on Saturday.
The former Burnley boss is trying to remould the Trotters into a slick passing outfit, a far cry from the rough and ready direct tactics of Sam Allarydce that was at the heart of their recent success.
Regardless of this, there is only so much you can do with the same squad and the side still includes a number of physical players who will not hold back when it comes to tackles and aerial challenges, Kevin Davies is a prime example.
United go into the game in good form, winning their last four, but the main injury worry is the talismanic Wayne Rooney, whose swollen knee forced him to miss training this week.
With such a massive week to come I would see it as too much of a risk to play the England striker, as his absence would be more keenly felt in the Champions League clash than at the Reebok. I think it would be better to play it safe and ensure his fitness for the rest of the season. Fabio Capello will no doubt want to see him rested too as the striker will play a key role of England are to win this year's Football World Cup
This will put the pressure on Berbatov to perform. The Bulgarian has proven ineffective when on his own upfront, and can often look like he can't be bothered - much to everyone's frustration. So a rare start for Mame Biram Diouf to partner Berbatov may spur him into action.
United are at their most dangerous at this time of year, when they click into "title" mode. I don't care how it is achieved but three points are vital from the Reebok, and the football oddssuggest we will get them.
Key player Bolton – Kevin Davies
He may not be the most skilful of players but he uses his attributes to maximum affect. Horrible and frustrating to play against, but brutally effective, he will have to be closely watched.
Key player Man United – Dimitar Berbatov
In the expected absence of Wayne Rooney United's goalscoring responsibility will be pinned on the Bulgarian. It is vital we see more than just a glimpse of his phenomenal ability at the Reebok.
Park arrived at Old Trafford a relative 'unknown' back in 2005. Although he had some decent CL experience with PSV Eindhoven and had a remarkable WC with South Korea in 2002, the consensus around fandom was that he was largely a "commercial" signing. A signing made purely to shift shirts off shelves in Asia. That feeling was prevalent amongst most fans as recent as the starting of this season.Many of us wondered if he was good enough to get a start in any other top 5 team in the league? Although he has been Fergie's go to person for big games before,this season has put such questions firmly to bed. It's often said that versatile players have a big handicap as they are good at many things but not great at any. Park does fit in that category although he's now shifting a gear and really excelling in the 4-5-1 system that Fergie employs in tough games. He has now scored against Arsenal, Milan and Liverpool this season - not bad, eh? And it's not the scoring that gets him the accolades, it's the amazing consistency with which he plays to the plan. His work rate is top class (perhaps next only to Fletcher) and his ability to function effectively behind the lone striker by dropping into spaces and running into the box has been a true ace up Fergie's sleeve. He dismantled Milan and although it was tougher against a much more defensive minded Liverpool, his intelligent runs into spaces and constant hassling of their midfielders paid rich dividends. Commentators call him "programmable" - that's an insult to his footballing acumen but it is a manager's dream to have players like him who execute plans, sometimes radically different, close to perfection on almost every asking. There's a reason Hiddink took him along to PSV and there's a reason Fergie plays him in all the big games. That reason was somehow not very apparent to fans until recently (including me, admittedly).
Players like him and Fletcher who don't come with a bag of tricks get a lot of undeserved criticism as fans sometimes don't see the water carrying they do for the team. If last year was the season that finally brought fans around for Fletcher, this season has been the same for Park. Two largely under-rated players (by fans) are now the two most important pieces of the United machinery. The two players who Fergie banks on for the toughest of games. The two players on whom it will depend on how far we go in Europe this season and where we'll end up in the league table. It's said that the first 3/4th of a marathon should be run with the brain and the last 1/4th with the heart. Well as the marathon that's the EPL comes to the most fascinating climax in recent times, United should hope and pray that the two of their most unsung heroes are up for it and continue the recent run. The brilliance of Rooneys and Ronaldos are awesome but its the steel and heart of the likes of Park and Fletcher that matters the most when 'squeaky bum time' strikes. And that time is well upon us.
So Bayern Munich it is in the QF of the Champs League. With Barca in the other half of the draw, pundits have been quick to speculate about a repeat of 09. There's a lot of work to be done. I had picked Munich to be the dark horses this year. With a fit Robben and Ribery, they are a very good side. It's not going to be easy for United, not even close. There are some very crucial league games coming up and from now on, every game is do or die. At this stage only drawing Barcelona could have been worse. The good news is we are playing the second leg at home which is a decent advantage. Another good news is that if we get through we play the winner of Lyon/Bordeaux - which although not easy is definitely not as tricky as playing Inter or Barca. So then it is:
Tuesday, 30 March 2010 : Bayern Munich v Man Utd, QF, L1
Wednesday, 7 April 2010 : Man Utd V Bayern Munich, QF, L2
But the focus is back on domestic matters for the moment. The biggest game etc on Sunday. Having suffered three defeats on the trot, Fergie and the gang must be up for it. They must still be hurting from the 1-4 home loss last time around. It's time to put the record straight. I bet the scousers would like nothing more to put a dent into our title hopes this season and therefore the incentive is huge for both sides. The big question will be if Vidic can stay on the pitch for 90 minutes this time around!
I think it'll be a close game and we should be able to shade it. I won't be surprised if it's a draw but that definitely won't be good for the title chances. Fergie has come out today talking about the Gerard incident :
"I didn't expect anything to happen to
Steven Gerrard. It (the disciplinary panel) is a dysfunctional unit.I don't know what they are doing.There
is no consistency for a start and I didn't expect to get any. I am not too bothered about it. They can do what they
want down there. It is crazy at times.''
And he is spot on. No other footballer can get away with such blatant incidents as Gerrard. He should have been off after showing the ref a finger and then his assault on Brown should have seen him banned for 3 games at least. But nothing happened and we have to live with it now. Fergie also said there's no chance of a 1-4 repeat :
"Last season was a one-off,It won't happen again. I can
assure you of that. Absolutely no chance."
Let's hope he is not tempting fate. It's all to play for on Sunday.
"I enjoyed one game in particular. It ended 0-0 and not much happened.
I played in midfield and it was blood and thunder. Me and Graeme
Souness against Bryan Robson, Remi Moses and Norman Whiteside. We
didn't need a ball for half an hour. We kicked them. They kicked us and
nobody whinged. Great."
It was a night of remarkable contrasts. A night when the past and future of Fergie's dynasty came together in dramatic fashion. A night when a teary eyed Beckham made an emotional return to his spiritual home wondering if he was in fact wearing the wrong colors.A night that once again proved leaving United is a step down for a professional player.It was the kind of night that gave The Theater of Dreams it's name. It was a night when the ghosts of Milan 05 and 07 were well and truly buried.
It was a superb performance all around, the kind it takes to dominate and embarrass a strong European opponent. United have often made it difficult for themselves and gone out or ahead in dramatic fashion. But tonight that was not the case. It was a mature and seasoned performance, one that deserves all kinds of plaudits. Right from the get go, the tempo and the intent rattled Milan. There was no messing around. Rooney continued his dream form - commentators running out of adjectives and rightly calling it a "frightening season" for him.It took him 13 minutes to get on the score sheet with what has now become a trademark -headed goal- making it a 7th consecutive goal scoring header. Gazza's pass was inch perfect and he tried to repeat it many times later in the game but couldn't get anywhere near close. But it wasn't just about Rooney. Park and Fletcher hustled all night and made it very difficult for Pirlo and Ronaldinho to get into the game. Nani and Valencia provided the width, attacking menace and more importantly helped out the back four on every occasion that required tracking back. The back 4 were superb too - and the difference is evident when Rio and Vidic start together. It was Rio's 2nd successive start just for the first time since last October - a tribute to where Sir Alex has gotten this team in spite of all the injuries to key players. On paper Ronaldinho V Gary Neville, Pirlo V Park are the kind of contests that you would want to stop before a punch is thrown. But tribute to the team and the manager for always making the sum greater than the parts.
Seconds into the restart, Nani played the pass of the game and found Rooney who didn't miss. That was game over. From there on it was an exercise of damage limitation for Milan. Park found the net from a Scholes through ball - and he deserved every bit of it. Fletcher headed in the fourth to wrap up the tie. Leonardo threw in Beckham in the mix who had tears in his eyes as he came on to a fantastic reception from the fans. He came close with a ferocious volley hit straight at Van Der Sar but it wasn't going to be Milan's night.
With the football business taken care of by the hour mark, it was time for the United faithful to switch to equally important business. The green and gold scarves made their appearance felt and so did the Love United Hate Glazer banners. The sense of humor wasn't lost either as one of the posters greeted Beckham - "Welcome Home Green and Goldenballs"! This is the first real organized push since the takeover and let's hope things move in the right direction for United away from the football ground as well.
After the game Sir Alex said Beckham "deserved his reception". How about that boot Sir Alex, did he deserve it too? ;-)
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