Analysis: Manchester United’s midfield takes centre stage again
As satisfying as football matches go, this one is right up there. Over 180 minutes, Manchester United had displayed much cut and thrust; infused with verve, vigour and great dynamism. These are times of encouragement. Penetration and the constant attempts to breach the opposing defences was the name of the game – one that, ultimately, saw United win the tie 3-1.
At Old Trafford, United had shrugged off year long cries of decline – while their opponents, who have invested millions into their quest for European success over the years, left empty handed and in apparent need of change. In fairness, Chelsea displayed great fight at times and resolve and there were indeed moments where they had found the upper hand over the Red Devils. However, they will rue that they simply did not do enough to win the tie.
United’s central midfield pairing of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick had proved once again effective – and perhaps the selection of the two suggesting there is more to be seen of the pair. Then there was Wayne Rooney. It seems, despite his onslaught on defences far and wide last season that his real position is as a trequartista – as Manchester United’s own Francesco Totti and not his higher position last year which saw 34 goals.
Que the ‘Roo-beauty’ headlines…
<Figure 1> Wayne Rooney has the potential to be the one of the games’ great passers. He is often criticised for attempting too many ‘Hollywood’ balls but the chalkboard above dismisses the half-true notion for now. The term ‘trequartista’ throws many off but Rooney is precisely that – a link between midfield and attack. He thrives from the deep and is able to spread lay create chances. He did play an important part in the first goal.
Via the Total Football App
Possession means nothing if you cannot convert
We can sing our praises about the United’s central midfield because they had managed to overcome Chelsea’s three – of Ramires, Lampard and Essien (who had played well, it must be said) – in great style. But United are a collective unit, and not one individual put a foot wrong in the second leg of this tie. John O’Shea was solid and unyielding as usual. Van der Sar was excellent, too, and there was a nice moment where he stormed out of his goal and thwarted Nicolas Anelka and a Chelsea attack, slide tackling along the ground outside his box as if he was an accomplished libero of the game.
The first half saw United edge ahead further from their 1-0 aggregate lead. Rooney, the driving force as usual, had supplied Giggs with a perfect ball and the Welshman responded with a low neat cross from the edge of the box which found the ever-present Javier Hernandez. The Mexican tucked it away with ease. The Blues were good in the first 45 however; they had a couple of chances and did have a larger share of possession but they simply didn’t penetrate enough and find a clear opening of goal they so badly needed. Frank Lampard and Ramires had seen the ball on several occasions, the former doing his utmost to create and find something, while the Brazilian was able to assume defensive duties. They had played well, the duo, but in vain.
However, Chelsea’s failure to convert played into United’s hands and the body language of the home side suggested that they were comfortable and unfazed. The second half was more or less played at the same tempo and Chelsea were finally able to score – via Didier Drogba. The Ivorian should have started against the rueful Fernando Torres, who will continue to be haunted by the weigh of expectation placed upon him. Just moments before, Ramires had seen red and so any sort of charge from Chelsea in the last ten would be even more so difficult with the handicap of one less. But there was no such charge – United had restored the lead and effectively won the tie when Park finished coolly just seconds after Chelsea’s equaliser.
Ryan Giggs stars as Benjamin Button
It was Giggs again, who provided the killer pass. In fact, the veteran has assisted United’s last four goals in the competition – proving he is the Benjamin Button of the footballing world. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the character found rave reviews, but rumours have it Hollywood chiefs are lining up Giggs to star in the sequel.
<Figure 2> The diagram suggests Ryan Giggs can indeed play in the centre – covering good distances and playing passes everywhere off the pitch. He is given the freedom to attack while Carrick sits and it was the Welshman who created both goals.
Via the Total Football App
<Figure 3> Just like the first leg, Giggs is continuing to cover great distances and the 37 year old is showing no ill signs of old age, and just goes to prove there is much left in his legs yet. Carrick, as he did in the Marseille and at Stamford Bridge, once again covered a large distance.
Such great team ethic will get United places
There is much to admire about the character of this United team. They haven’t been consistently at their scintillating best this season, we know that, but they have shown, time and time again, that they possess great understanding and boast such great team ethic that Europe’s best can only dream of.
This was a performance worthy of European success against tough opposition – but the United know that there is still much hard work to do because, with no intention of disrespect to Chelsea, the opposition will potentially be far more difficult to overturn with the grand prize in the horizon. Yet, as we are all too familiar, United are the team for the biggest of occasions. With this team, they can believe they have what it takes to beat any side, however daunting, and conquer Europe once again.