Between the Lines

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Posts Tagged ‘Champions League’

Nine Days That Shook the World

Posted by hakanrylander on April 9, 2010

I can’t remember when we last lost three straight games (two of them at Old Trafford), let alone three games as important as Bayern, Chelsea and Bayern. Suddenly we’re out of the CL and will find it very difficult to catch Chelsea in the PL with only five games remaining. It took only nine days for our season to disintegrate.

(Edit: As Morten has pointed out in his comment we did in fact beat Bayern 3-2 at Old Trafford. But somehow it felt like a defeat…)

As Sir Alex will no doubt tell you it’s not too difficult to find “external” reasons for a defeat; maybe the referee favoured the opposition or German’s behaved in a “typical” unsporting way. But after these three games we need to take a long hard look at possible weaknesses in our own team. United did in fact play some very good football, maybe their best this season, in both first halves against Bayern. But in the end they were still knocked out. I believe that a major reason was a lack of confidence.

This was most obvious against Bayern at Old Trafford. United were cruising 3-0 ahead when in a short space of time Rooney started limping, Bayern scored a soft goal and Rafael was sent off. These were bad blows, but not bad enough for the team to withdraw completetly into desperately defending the lead. Until then Bayern had found it very difficult to handle the pressing in midfield and in particular Nani and Valencia running at their full-backs. But United now more or less gave up any attacking ambitions thus making life much easier for Bayern’s weakest link Badstuber and freeing Lahm to get forward in support of Robben.

Compare this to Bayern who in both games showed a remarkable resilience and mental strength. In Munich they were second best for most of the game but kept going and managed to turn the game around towards the end. In Manchester they were outplayed for 40 minutes, but even at 3-0 down their heads didn’t drop and to my mind they had begun to change the pattern of the game even before Rafael was sent off.

This is exactly the kind of strength that has characterized great United teams in the past (the semi-final in Turin 1999 springs to mind). Possibly the team’s self-belief is now too dependent on Rooney. I think the team is strong enough to match Bayern even without Rooney, but somehow the players themselves didn’t really seem to think so.

Finally, a note to Sir Alex. The German players didn’t get Rafael sent off, he did that himself. It was a correct decision by the referee.


Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Milan handed us the game on a plate

Posted by hakanrylander on March 11, 2010

A very good performance from United last night and several positive signs going inte the quarter-finals. On yesterday’s evidence Park (my MotM) is probably our best option as the attacking central midfielder. Fletcher again proved that he has that rare quality of playing better the bigger the game. Valencia dominated the right-wing completety (with a little help from Ronaldinho, see below). Nani had a shaky start but improved as the game went along, and provided the best moment of the match with his superb pass for Rooney’s second goal. As for Rooney himself, another proof that he’s England’s best player.

Even so I think the main reason why United were so dominant was that Milan more or less handed us the game on a plate by poor work-rate and lack of tactical awareness. The most glaring example was that the left-back Jankulovski, one of the weakest individual links, was given virtually no support at all from Ronaldinho. As a consequence, Valencia and Neville could do pretty much whatever they pleased down that corridor. Furthermore, the other attackers, Huntelaar and Borriello, spent a lot of time waiting for the ball rather than take part in the build-up. This was a huge difference to e.g. Rooney and Valencia.

In fairness, Milan probably suffered a lot from the absence of Pato and Nesta. Milan still created a couple of chances early on, and with crisper finishing from Ronaldinho and Huntelaar it could have been a much tighter game. But I’m sure United would still have prevailed given Milan’s weaknesses.

I’m already looking forward to the next round.

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Match Report: United 2 Wolfsburg 1

Posted by hakanrylander on October 1, 2009

Six points from two games is a very satisfying start to the group stage of the CL, but most of all this game was an excellent example of what Dimitar Berbatov brings to the team. Before he came on after 19 minutes we didn’t create very much, but he immediatley started to trouble the Wolfsburg defence with his passes, flicks and back-heels. He set up clear scoring opportunities for Valencia and Carrick and played an important part in the build-up to Carrick’s winner. Hopefully he won over some of his remaining doubters. My MotM.

I was also pleased to see, for the first time this season, an impressive performance from Michael Carrick. Let’s hope he keeps it up because his passing is crucial to the smooth running of our engine room. Another of my favourites, Antonio Valencia, still looks promising but maybe needs more confidence to use his pace to full advantage.

On a more cautious note I was a bit concerned by the way Dzeko and Grafite troubled our back four. The Wolfburg strikers are perhaps not very well-known outside Germany, but probably form one of the strongest striking partnerships in Europe. Vidic was lucky not to be sent off.

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Turkish delight: Besiktas 0 United 1

Posted by hakanrylander on September 16, 2009

turkish_delight2Not an outstanding performance, but it’s of course very satisfying to bring three points back from Istanbul. United lined up in the 4-5-1 formation that is now traditional for away games in Europe. It’s hard to argue with this approach since it’s been very successful. United haven’t lost an away-tie in the CL since 2007 in Milan.

Even so I long for a little bit more adventure, at least against sides like Besiktas. I felt that this game could have been settled by half-time if Rooney had been given a bit more support by one or two central midfielders ghosting into the area when Valencia delivered his crosses. Paul Scholes was a master at this ten years ago. Maybe it’s easier for midfielders to break forward when they are supported by Fletcher or Hargreaves on sentry duty in front of the back four. With Hargreaves injured I would like Fletcher to play every game, but the schedule of course makes this impossible.

In the first half Rooney looked great in a difficult and isolated position. He tired a bit in the second but I was still surprised that he was substituted. Maybe when he grows up he will be able to walk off without a show of petulance. Valencia did great on his CL-debut. His style is more direct and effective compared to Nani’s.

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CL-draw looks OK

Posted by hakanrylander on August 27, 2009

In today’s draw for the group stages of the Champions League United were drawn against CSKA Moscow, Besiktas and Wolfsburg. In all honesty I don’t know much about CSKA or Besiktas, but as champions of Germany Wolfsburg was almost certainly the strongest team in the fourth tier of seeds. Even so the draw looks favourable. At least we avoided the trickiest opponents from the second seeds like Juventus, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

Other games to look forward to include Bayern Munich vs Juventus, AC Milan vs Real Madrid and Barcelona vs Inter Milan. It will be interesting to see whether Mourinho can come up with something to contain Xavi and Iniesta.

Posted in Manchester United | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Match Report: United 0 Barcelona 2

Posted by hakanrylander on May 28, 2009

It’s no disgrace to lose to a side like Barcelona. But what really disappointed me last night was that Barcelona won comfortably without having to be at their best. Instead we witnessed what can only be described as a mental collapse of a kind I never thought I’d see from a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson.

It started well enough. The first nine minutes looked exactly the way I wanted them to, with United pressing high, beginning to create chances and both Rooney and Ronaldo starting in a confident mood. Park even came close to scoring from a rebound. Then in the tenth minute the game was turned on its head when the United midfield did what they must have been under orders not to allow under any circumstances; they gave Iniesta time and space to run at the defence.

The goal seemed to drain all confidence from every United player. Within  minutes Vidic, Carrick and Anderson had all made school-boy mistakes, and this set the pattern for the rest of the game. From now on United more or less stood around admiring Barca, while feeling inferior.

Guus Hiddink was widely criticized for negative and physical tactics against Barcelona in the semi-final, but last night I soon found myself longing for some physical tactics. If only to prove that we cared about this game. When at last we got physical it was in a reckless way when Scholes came on and lunged into a tackle that deserved a red card (but only got him a yellow). I never thought I’d miss Darren Fletcher as much as I did last night.

Finally, even though I’m disappointed with United I have to give full credit to Barcelona. They were the better team by a mile. And if you love football you have to admire the passing of Xavi and Iniesta as well as the wonderfully executed header by Messi.

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Preview: United-Barcelona

Posted by hakanrylander on May 27, 2009

A very important, perhaps crucial, factor in tonight’s game is the fact that Barcelona are missing three of their first-choice defenders (Alves and Abidal are suspended and Marquez injured). Not only does it weaken Barcelona, but it might also influence the tactics of both teams. It will be interesting to see whether the percieved weakness at the back will cause Barcelona to be a little less adventurous going forward.

United have two alternative battle-plans. Plan A (“Nou Camp”) is to sit back, contain Xavi and Iniesta, leave as little room as possible for Messi, Henry and Eto’o and punish Barcelona on the break. This will be a little easier to achieve than it normally would because Barca will lack the attacking thrust that the fullbacks, Alves in particular, usually provides.

Plan B (“Old Trafford”) is to be all over Barcelona from the off, pressing the back-four and forcing Barcelona to defend. I hope Ferguson goes for Plan B and then reverts to Plan A after 20 minutes when we’re 2-0 up. 🙂

Whatever tactics we choose our main avenues of attack will be Ronaldo down the middle and Rooney and Evra on the left. This might just leave the occasional opening at the other end of the penalty area. My gut feeling is that tonight’s hero will be Park Ji-Sung.

2-0 United.

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Myth of the Week

Posted by hakanrylander on May 26, 2009

Dimitar Berbatov is supposed to be lazy. Carlos Tevez is supposed to work his socks off in every game. The Times today demolishes this myth by revealing that in the knockout stages of the CL Berbatov has covered 112 metres per minute, while Tevez has covered 110 metres per minute. Case closed.

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Beauty or the Beast?

Posted by hakanrylander on May 6, 2009

Tonight Chelsea and Barcelona battle for the honour of taking on United in the CL Final in Rome. I belive that United’s chances of winning the trophy will be better if Chelsea reach the final, but I still hope for a Barcelona win for two main reasons:

-United vs Barcelona could be a classic game involving two attacking sides that are widely acknowledged as the best teams in the world.

-If, Eric forbid, we should loose the final I would find it easier to stomach that Barcelona rather than Chelsea beat us, because of their entertaining football.

It’s a difficult game to call. Chelsea were accused of negative tactics in the first leg, but I can’t see how they could have chosen any other strategy at Nou Camp. I don’t think Hiddink will play it much differently tonight. He’ll probably be quite happy to contain Barcelona and hope that a single goal will be enough, and Drogba may well provide it against Barcelona’s makeshift central defence with both Marquez and Puyol sidelined.

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United 2 – Porto 2

Posted by hakanrylander on April 8, 2009

The sad fact of this game is that United were lucky to get away with a draw. We had most of the possession but Porto always looked more dangerous and showed lots of energy and movement, neither of which featured prominently in United’s performance. A number of “experts”, myself included, must now realize that it wasn’t perhaps such a blessing to be drawn against the Portugese champions.

Only Rooney emerged with some credit, but this was one of those occasions when I felt that he might be more useful to the team in a slightly more withdrawn position.

It is, of course, still possible to turn this tie around in Portugal next week, but I’m not very optimistic. United looked very tired and Porto will be filled with confidence. But hopefully Ferdinand and Berbatov will be back and a difficult game in his home country will be a good opportunity for Ronaldo to provide some magic.

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