This match was all about momentum. Sir Alex set out United with a clear game plan, building on the success at StamfordBridge. Defend, counter, score, repeat. To be fair, Rooney’s first was a scuffed shot, but the second was the result of Nastasic being out to lunch as the Reds drove forward. And just like the match against the Blues, even at 2-0 up the game was only heading one way. Minutes away from halftime, I was praying for the whistle, and when Barry’s shot fizzed wide just before the interval, I thought United might be able to hold on.
In the second half, the game changed in an instant. The Red Devils went from a virtually unassailable 3-0 lead to a white knuckle 2-1 advantage. The pendulum had swung to the hosts and everything favored City. They had the athletes, the speed and the momentum. And United had Ashley Young and a lack of soccer IQ.
Now I don’t want to get off a rant here but . . .
What a woeful performance from Young. Turnover after turnover after turnover; constantly going to ground; lack of defensive cover for Evra. But the worst was that in the final minutes of the game, he switched flanks, latched on to a long ball and just had to not give it up. What does he do? Gives it up. He must go at the end of the season. United need to rebuild their flanks, as Valencia is the only consistent performer and he is perpetually injured.
Moving on . . .
United didn’t know how to close out the match. Ahead for the first time in ages, not having to outwork, outfight, outscore their opponents, they lacked the composure to finish the game off. The Reds couldn’t take advantage of City being stretched and were lucky to escape with the three points.
Look at City’s goals. They got in behind the United defense as Evra fell asleep and then Tevez showed amazing poise to layoff for Yaya after a mad scramble. On the corner, Young was watching Zabaleta as he smashed in a shot through Jones’ legs (through the legs was another theme of the match).
Side note: Mancini will get some gas for not starting Tevez but in this instance I support the Italian manager. Aguero and Balotelli were causing problems and could have caused more had Balotelli decided to give more than maybe 50%. City had a lot of possession but weren’t too dangerous, but what this pairing did was set up the substitution of Tevez, especially after Evans went out. Mancini brought on the energetic Tevez and was close to turning the match around until the dramatic winner. It could be asked would the result been different with Tevez from the off. Maybe. But if City were down 2-0 and Mancini had brought on Balotelli, then based on his performance, the Citizen would have not even got back into the game.
Did United deserve to win? Conflicted. Draw probably would have been the fair result, maybe even a City win. Looking back at the season thus far: a gift at Liverpool, a steal at Chelsea, and a taut encounter at City with a fortunate deflection. Is this the steel of champions or the luck of paper tiger? In the season of the weird, we won’t know until May.
Doubt if I will read a fairer report of the game than Suffering Bruin’s post on Bitter and Blue. He acknowledged that Young’s goal should have stood; he castigated the fan who threw the coin at Rio; he also acknowledged that if Tevez had started and Kompany was on the field , things might have gone differently; finally he wanted viewers to appreciate the fact that Tevez could have gone down when Evra was pressuring him, but did not.
Over at Red Rants, Daniele compared RvP’s impact to that of Cantona, as the Dutchman saved United (again) after a hard fought performance at the Eithad. He correctly pointed out that Sir Alex played with more purpose (read: attack) than last spring’s away fixture, which saw United pack the midfield, slump to defeat and eventually concede the title. Reading the report I was reminded that Young set up the first goal so have to give him so credit but still ready to drive him away from Manchester.
Finally Zonal Marking saw United sit back and counter and the Reds executed the approach to full effect. Likening the game to the Chelsea match a couple of weeks ago, Rooney would drop into the midfield so that the center mids wouldn’t be overloaded. Once winning the ball, the Red Devils were very direct, which caused the two goals. Tevez’s introduction changed the game as the center backs chased Tevez and Aguero around with Carrick and Cleverly being passed around, letting the Citizens run at United, never a good thing. In the end, poor set piece defending created by the substitutions created a frantic ending, with United securing the points.
Following the Manchester Derby, Mid Michigan United held a FIFA 13 Tournament, a combination of fun, one year birthday of the group, and a fundraiser for Ele’s Place. I had never played the game on the Xbox or the Playstation so didn’t rate my chances. Playing as Manchester United, I held my own against my opponent, who used Valencia. My lack of offense and defensive organization was eventually punished as I lost 1-0 to eventual champion Cody, a 20 year old college student at MSU. He won the tournament in the final against a seven year old. Yes seven. All of the 30 somethings fell to the wayside and the younger generations triumphed, but a great time for a great cause.
Finally, after watching the Barcelona match, I played an indoor game. Down 5-2 at half, we roared back to win 8-6. I chipped in with a goal but that was about it. I am really surprised that my off season workout of drinking beer and watching soccer is not paying dividends. Ugh. Time to get back at it.
Articles and Pods
Due to a #FF from Scott the Red, I found this post at Man Utd Tactics about the changing personnel and formations from the first Premier League winning side until now. Sir Alex won his first title using a 4-4-2 with wingers and high/low forwards. From there he moved to a narrow 4-2-3-1 culminating in the 2002/03 Premier League winning side. Since then he has moved oscillated between the 4-4-2 and 4-3-2-1 win depending on Rooney’s position (and fitness and mindset) and the central midfield pairings available. This season Sir Alex has even tried a 4-3-3, which makes sense since he has so many attacking players. Of course this only works with Welbeck and Hernandez in advanced positions. They simply cannot play on the wings due to a lack of technical ability and defensive cover. Seems as if the gaffer is adding this formation to his repertoire for games in which United are favored. Long term, he needs to find a center midfield general and shore up the center of the defense. As the author states:
The history of United’s changing tactical approach since Keane left the club can be summed up as an attempt to overcome the loss of Roy Keane with an interlude where the tactical approach was completely changed to exploit the brilliance of Ronaldo.
Future success will be determined by strengthened the middle. If this continues to go unaddressed, no number of world class strikers will be able to save the Red Devils.
Last week marked one year since the death of Brazilian star Socrates. Fellow MMMSL Over 30 competitor tweeted out his post from last year in remembrance. To be honest, my only knowledge of the player is from occasional references from Tim Vickery on World Football Phone In, but Peter’s post and video from YouTube were a nice introduction to the player.
A week after the trial balloon of a 64 team Champions League was floated, Gabriele Marcotti laid out a revision of the current system. Basically the two best first place teams would move on right to the quarterfinals, while he proposed a play-in system for the four best third place teams against four worst second placed teams. My first instinct is no. Seems very NFL-ish to me. European soccer is foreign to Americans because of its straightforward nature. Normal numbers (16, 8, 4, 2), home and away, move on. (Away goals is a little confusing.) Plus why should third placed teams have any second chances? They already drop into the Europa League. (I’m assuming Gabriele’s plan would eliminate that option). Anyway, keep it as it is. Yes there are dead rubbers on Matchday 6, but that there was also the drama of Celtic and Chelsea.
Chris Bevan profiled American Oguchi Onyewu for the BBC. Currently on loan from Sporting, he has landed on a Malaga team defying expectations after a summer of confusion and uncertainty. Winners of their Champions League Group and currently fifth in La Liga, Los Boquerones have generated excitement both home and abroad. Gooch has made six appearances for Malaga thus far. At 30, there is some question whether he is part of Klinsmann’s plans for World Cup Qualification. His strong, physical presence will be needed, but is fully healthy? That’s my question.
Speaking of UEFA, word came down that the association plans to hold the 2020 European Championships all over Europe. Debates regarding the format both make compelling cases: a single or joint venture incorporates visiting fans and the hosts while the new arrangement will allow countries in general and selected cities in particular a chance to participate in this great competition. I’m open minded at this point. Strike that. I don’t really care because with the expansion to 24 teams from 16, it doesn’t really matter at this point. This is a money grab as most things are. So UEFA, do what you’re going to do.
Finally, A recent podcast I’ve found is The Big Questions, hosted by Aaron Stollar. Part of the North American Soccer Network, Aaron looks at issues beyond who won, who lost and news of the day. On Episode 10, he had Alexi Lalas and Leander Schaerlaeckens on to speculate about what the game of soccer will look like in 50 years. They examined the fight between international football and club soccer; the speed of the game; the future of US soccer and the possibility of robots.
Exploring the next 20,30, 50 years of American soccer, a possible North American league was discussed. Hate this. Travel is the biggest consideration. Could you imagine Seattle away to Mexico City (2800+ miles)? The panel also touched on the changing demographics in this country and how that will affect the USMNT. Finally, time was spent on the structure of MLS, with promotion and relegation not really a possibility due to the financial investment of the owners. Great insights and opinions. Definitely worth the listen.