Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bayern Munic-Manchester United: Player Ratings

United had a dream start when Demichelis fouled Nani needlessly in the first minute. Bayern's defender slipped on the following free-kick to allow Rooney a simple tap-in. Rooney did nothing furtherand often, nor did Unitedthroughout the first half as Bayern dominated possession and fired in crosses and shots.

This theme continued in the second frame, in part to thoughtless substitutions made by Ferguson, who lacked the audacity to take Rooney out and keep the 4-5-1, instead going to 4-4-2, despite already conceding so much possession. 

Ribery equalized in the 76th minute with a Rooney-deflected free-kick. Bayern continued to control the waning moments of the match and snatched victory from Draw's jaws at the death when United's backline, sans Neville, got in a total muddle, allowing Olic to skip through and finish.

Butt (7): "Didn't have much to do today."

Demichelis (6.5): Started in bad shape, needlessly conceding a free-kick, and slipping as it ensued to allow Rooney's early goal. Made roads to make up for it as United failed to tally again.

Van Buyten (7.5): Enjoyed getting forward, even, on occasion, and shut down Rooney easily with help from his friends.

Badstuber (6.5): Should be thankful he was up against Nani today instead of Valencia. Poor decision from United's manager is this left-back's personal gain today.

Lahm (8): Bayern's best player in the first half. United didn't press enough and Lahm was able to ping in dangerous crosses. The trend continued in the second frame. Didn't have to defend much against Park, or Giggs.

Pranjic (7): Got a couple shots off on goal and, despite being run ragged by Fletcher, enjoyed possession during the Scotsman's absence.

Van Bommel (8): Laid the foundation for Bayern's control. Assured and dominant in the air against a clucking Carrick.

Ribery (8.5): Bayern's most creative player. Outstanding balance similar to Arshavin. Created several dangerous opportunities for forwards who didn't otherwise deserve them. Scored when Rooney deflected his 22-yard free-kick.

Altintop (5): Extremely slow. Failed to release his side on the counter despite several chances to do so easily. Plodding and useless.

Olic (6.5): Laughable for 90 minutes. Deadly for one second. Made a huge difference pouncing late to give Bayern an advantage heading back to Old Trafford.

Muller (5.5): Didn't show much of his game, whatever it may be.


van der Sar (8): Had a lot of work to do today. Zero culpability for the first goal, his chances weren't fair for the second, either. Strong in his box and using both feet to clear the ball. Bayern had 20 shots overall, 10 on target.

Neville (6): Guileful display from United's right-back until he reactively handled outside his penalty box. Ribery's ensuing free-kick crucially levelled. Neville wasn't outclassed today from open field, despite being often against the Frenchman. Nani didn't help track back enough, and considering, Neville put in a good shift.

Ferdinand (5.5): Rio is not fit. Looked at sea at times. Bayern were able to get behind United's backline on several occasions. Somewhat culpable for Bayern's late go-ahead goal when he totally took himself out of the equation, being ridiculously off-balance.

Vidic (7): Also discombobulated for Bayern's second, Vida won headers and tackled well otherwise throughout the match.

Evra (6.5): The French left-back didn't enjoy as much running forward as he is accustomed, but jumped highest throughout to win headers, and handled the ball sufficiently on United's left side, despite Lahm having a good game opposite him.

Park (5.5): Ahead of Evra, Park was assigned to harry Lahm, who beat him on different occasions. As expected, Ji Sung was mediocre on offense, controlling poorly, and generally being aimless going forward.

Fletcher (8) : Pin-balled across the pitch with vigor. Made United's best forward runs and tackled throughout. Never runs out of energy. Put everyone else in white to shame. Not helped by Ferguson's employment of him most forward of the central triangle. But it's to United's detriment, not Fletcher's, because he is outstanding wherever he plays this season.

Carrick (4): Pranced across the pitch unknowingly. Tentative in the tackle and the pass. Weak across every attribute. Carrick will be glad to one day to be completely anonymous.

Scholes (6): Some genuinely brilliant long-balls, but Scholesy was a little careless with his close control at times. It's reckless of Ferguson to employ him at the tip of a backwards triangle. Scholes should be the forward tip of such a shape with Fletcher and ideally Hagreaves anchoring. United conceded 60/40 possession today.

Nani (5.5): Started well for 15 minutes. Nani then decided to dive at every opportunity. His attacking play took on the same sentiment, as he elaborated at nearly every turn. Faded fast. Naive footballer.

Rooney (4.5): Apparently Rooney left his world-class touch on past headlines today. His holding play was poor, full stop. He created virtually nothing and turned the ball over many times. He was unmarked for his five-yard tap-in when Demachalis slipped after two minutes. He missed a sitter when United needed anything to relieve the pressure. One of his worst footballing displays this season which have otherwise been very positive. He limped off at the death and will likely miss several forthcoming matches during United's title run-in.

Ferguson's tactics today were pedestrian and United paid for it. Valencia should have started instead of Nani to further suppress Ribery. Carrick and Fletcher need to play behind Scholes. Ideally Gibson can feature instead of the lanky Englishman next week for the return leg at Old Trafford, but if Robben is fit, on today's evidence, the English champions will be very challenged to advance.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bolton-Manchester United: Player Ratings and Reca

Wanderers hosted Man United at the Reebok Saturday evening. The first half was argy-bargy as both teams wrestled for control. Each side had chances during the often end-to-end passages of play. The breakthrough was fortunate for United and abysmal for Bolton when Samual carelessly own-goaled right before the interval.

Bolton continued playing well in the second half; United continued to play better. Berbatov tapped home after 60 total following an audacious left-footed strike by Fletcher. Nani reamed his opposite full-back after 78 played with skill to setup another tap-in for Berbatov 3-0. Nani did the same thing five minutes later for Gibson to finish, 4-0.


van der Sar (8) It’s not a goalie’s fault when he doesn’t have that much to do. He is, though,  accountable for what is tasked of him.  The Dutchman made a world-class save today, his second of the season for those counting. His distribution was fine, and he had several important decisions to make as Bolton piled their meatshields forward, despite Wanderers only shooting on target five times. Clean sheet.

Neville (7) Some United fans think Neville has little left, but against sides like Bolton he’s very serviceable. Sure, he’s ploddingly slow; but he’s wily: That’s why everyone hates him. Still a quality footballer, if not defender.

Evans (6.5) Unable to redeem his form from last season, the Northern Irishman at least put a decent game under his belt today. Bolton are a challenging team for opposing backlines. They’re huge, and a few of them can even play. Therefore, Evans had to be big today, and he was big enough.

Vidic (9) Is there a better style matchup for Vidic than Kevin Davies? The Serbian monster was at home in the trenches today. He’ll be gutted he didn’t finish the match with a bloody nose. The happiest player on the pitch not to smile, Vida enjoyed himself thoroughly today, as all observing neutrals should have. Dominant. Brilliant.

Evra (7) Extremely consistent season continues. Over-hyped as a defender, possibly, Patty Evra has been owned by Bolton’s Davies before, but not today. He patrolled up and down the left wing willy-nillily, as usual. Solid.

Fletcher (8.5) It’s so easy giving Fletcher gaudy ratings. United’s best player this season continued his world-class form today. The war wagon rumbled all across the pitch today. A brilliantly driven, long-range, left-footed strike optioned Berbatov to easily tap-in their crucial second goal. He’d be player of the year in England and elsewhere; if he was English and uglier.

Giggs (6) Looked nifty, just didn’t get stuck-in. His left-footedness was a virtue apart from Scholes in the middle. He provides another creative avenue for United through the pitch’s core, but other players asserted themselves more ostensibly today.

Scholes (7) Easy job today: Lay back, ping the ball around,  and let Fletcher do all the dirty work. That’s a winning formula, and a practical one for the aging maestro. Dangerous when forward.

Valencia (6) Anomalously quiet game from the most consistently improving player for United this season.

Nani (8) Although I always look forward to lambasting Nani, his shameless lampooning of Bolton’s right-back on several occasions in the second half begrudges me. Even in the first half Nani played within his means, which is refreshing, but he must continue to use pace over trickery in the middle of the pitch to be consistently effective. Good game today; if only a poor one wouldn’t almost surely follow.

Berbatov (8) Berba on form drops deep, wave-rides defenders, and creates chances for overlap and interplay. Though, he still throws little tantrums here are there, and they’re cute.  His frustration is natural, though; imagine if you were the classiest player on every team you played. None of your teammates are likely to do the cool shit you think of.  His positioning is still poor, at times, probably due to never-ending wine hangovers. Two deserved goals today for United’s most creative player. He’s yet to score as a substitute this season. United are 20-3-1 in games Berbatov starts.


Jaaskelainen (6) Should have done better on Fletcher’s driven shot. Otherwise didn’t have a lot to do besides pick the ball up out of his net. Good keeper on an average team.

Knight (6) Didn’t get worked or anything drastic as United fielded their lone striker. But his team lost 4-0 and Berbatov scored twice, so, you wouldn’t expect him holding his high too high tonight. Allowed Berba to nod goal-kicks onto his teammates. Made plenty of clearances, though.

Cahill (5) Cleared headers inevitably as United poured in crosses. Unfortunately three of those crossed ultimately ended up in his own net. Not good enough.

Samuel (4) Passed the ball into his own net under little pressure for the opener after a very even first-half. Not much else matters after that.

Ricketts (3) Got lolwtfowned by Nani several times which must really suck for someone’s self-esteem. Perhaps an intervention or vacation is in order; or a complete re-evaluation of his life’s meaning.

Cohen (6) The aptly-named Israeli had a few bright moments, but was playing against Darren Fletcher and a balanced United midfield, thereby sealing a darker fate for Cohen than he might otherwise deserve.

Muamba (6) Invoked a world-class save from van der Sar. Looks like a former Arsenal signing, plays like it too. Athletic but crafty, he could be named Song or Diaby, but without class around him, he’ll be hard-pressed to emulate their form, especially against United.

Wilshere (6.5) A bit slow, but his creativity punctuated an otherwise straightforward Bolton approach.

Lee (7) Korean was nifty on the right-side against Evra. Held on to the ball very well, turning sprightly on several occasions.

Elmander (6) Bolton played well, in part to his performance. He’s hulking, inevitably, but can work with the ball  in addition to taking up space. Vidic owned his face aerially.

Davies (5) Vidic may as well have collared his neck and drug him around by chain tonite; in fact, he did.
Davies could not and can not compete with the Serbian aerially, and without that ability, was virtually useless.

‘Lo and behold, Rooney doesn’t play and United still win. Ferguson should have begun resting his talisman sooner because Berba’s form is not a surprise nor a recent development. Darren Fletcher and Vidic share man-of-the-match plaudits as the former sustains the best form of his career while the latter made strides to return to his.

United compensate Chelsea’s goal difference, beating Bolton by a 4-0 scoreline that deceives  how well Bolton played for 70 minutes but rightly renders United’s dominance across all 90.

Monday, March 15, 2010

beckam's dream ends; let his nightmare end too

Shame on all who derided David Beckham after his naive—but genuine—iconoclastic display at Old Trafford last week.

Then he donned a green-and-gold scarf, the symbol for the populist movement against the club's overleveraged, self-indulgent American owners.

Where's the malice?

Not within his intentions or action. But he was decried as being a "shameless self-promoter", always looking for the cameras. In truth, he's just a simple footballer, thrust into stardom for others' profit. He supports Man United when he plays on other teams. He loves Old Trafford. He always missed it. He's really not that complicated.

He was also accused of insincerity, as he distanced himself from the act afterwards, in mumbling, dulcet slang. But he shouldn't have have to inject himself politically into their movement to justify his support of it. Nor should you have to run for office to agree in some principle.

Given no evidence, sometimes editorial writers must adopt arbitrary stances to create a dramatic narrative. Some English opinion-makers elected to continue an onslaught of guilt-strking lampooning that's continued ceaselessly since Beckham's sending off against Argentina at World Cup 1998.

One cynic even questioned Beckham's ostensible, pining love for his father figure Alex Ferguson and Man United, suggesting—for nothing—Beckham, in fact, betrayed every club he left, fueled by greed and selfishness—the same motivators behind his green-and-gold tribute.

Hindsight bias is crippling when it is founded upon a general, arbitrary cynicism that manifests itself through, basically, practice and muscle memory—to continually offer nothing but negativity.

Such an approach might be more right than wrong, half the time, but journalists—especially editorialists—should strive for better than 50 percent accuracy. In fact, they shouldn't have to, because writing opinion for any media outlet—even a fading newspaper—should imply thoughtful precision, articulation, and depth.

It's simply lazy to join upon an anti-Beckham bandwagon, but lazier still when other arcs are equally—if not more—compelling, practical, and certainly more evident.

Regardless of whether you think he was a dullard, Beckham wasn't greedy or superficial. These presumably obvious traits were borne from lingering, mass-effect bitterness after his 1998 dismissal.

Through clearer windows than those of foggy pubs, the career of this simple footballer became far too complex for him to control. His good looks and ability cursed him to a life he would never be able to master.
When Beckham was sent off against Argentina at the World Cup, there were—literally—burning effigies in his likeness outside pubs in England. He became a national villain. He never lived it down.

Becks' error then was not slight, but it was wholly overexageratted, and any amount of bias cannot mask that, now 12 years past.

As an aside: Wayne Rooney was pivotally sent off in the 2006 World Cup knockout stages, but the anti-Rooney meme never caught on, there were no effigies.

But following Becks' leveling mistake, what—if not aghast humility—did he ever exude? What, if not nostalgia, contrite, and patriotism? Yes; he's that cheesy. But he's sincere, not superficial. And he's not greedy.

When he left United, he did so at Ferguson's behest, not for love of money. The departure was mutually beneficial: Becks continued good form—though not injury-free—in Madrid, and played with Zidane; United gave his jersey to Cristiano Ronaldo who arrived the same summer and ultimately became more marketable.

Beckham's venture into America, surely, was neither founded in his greed—perhaps that of others. If you want to find money-mongering, depraved characters, look past Beckham at AEG, who own his rights, the Galaxy's stadium, and entities in Manchester.

And sure, marrying Posh probably didn't help him: Who do you think wears the pants?

Yes, Beckham has been an unwitting observer to his star cruise across the skies. He just wanted people to like him. He's been made rich by it, sure; but he was already rich.

Who wasn't then? The people around him who are now. And—in spirit, at least—the writers who salaciously fueled the demographic for cynicism in English tabloids throughout his career.

And now, just days removed from that historical image of Beckham once again asking England and Old Trafford for forgiveness and endorphins, there is another image:

Achilles tendon torn, a forlorn Beckham was carried off the pitch in Italy on Sunday. He will now miss the World Cup; the dream to assuage his 12-year-long guilttrip is shattered, his England career cruelly ended before its natural death.

The acquiescent figure, who carried not only Man United, but the English Premier League into the forefront of global footballing consciousness, loses his final chance to win the hearts of even those bottom-dwelling sensationalists that've enjoyed slagging off his elite career.

Completely crestfallen, the mule everyone loved to kick is on his knees. But who will snivel? Where are the snarky articles about his greed and self-indulgence?  "Where's Tom Cruise at?"

Beckham's career is over. There are no more editorials in the well. It deserves accurate accounting and perspective as it is written into history.

The Man United hero was very much a simpleton, and he had a big, dumb heart.

It's time for those lacking to find another good-looking Englishman (or Rooney) upon which to pen their feast.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

conflicting emotions for united legends

Emotions couldn't have been more polarized for three already Manchester United legends after Tuesday's historic Champions League matches.

In Manchester itself, a hero continued his ascent into lore while a champion of the club punctuated his mark on its history.

But while both United stars past and present emerged from its knockout tie against AC Milan with repute, the lamenting anguish of greener pastures overcame one of its former starlets on Spanish shores the same day.

Rooney takes goals, glory

Man United entered its return leg against Milan comfortable. They exited in full-out party-mode.
The Red Devils demolished fading perennial European giant AC Milan, 4-0, completing a gross 7-2 victory on aggregate.

Once again, Wayne Rooney popped up to convert another cross with his small, balding head, and tallied again in the second half for his second double across both legs, taking his goal sum this season to 30.

With the ball, Rooney is not without peers. But, if ends justify means, there's few others as justifiably posited as "world-class" this season than the Englishman.

There are better players in the world, but none are having as good a season as Rooney—at least statistically, so who can deny him eligibility for Player of the Year awards in England and abroad?

Of course, in years hosting the World Cup, players must primarily excel on the national stage to accommodate voting bias, so such a rapacious campaign for club may be overshadowed.

But at club level, with 30 goals in all competitions, Rooney is doing everything right for United.
And there's plenty of games left, including at least two legs in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Beckham pens his own script

While AC Milan had nothing to take away from their humiliating cumulative loss, one of its players walked away from Old Trafford with pride intact, if not bolstered.

David Beckham's first competative appearance at Old Trafford since leaving his boyhood club in 2003 was marked by romance.

Certainly Becks himself made it so; in the years since his profitable departure, his love for club and manager was often on the nostalgic midfielder's tongue.

Whether plying his hybrid brand of football and pop stardom in Spain or America, Beckham is always more than willing to heap sentiment on his memories in Manchester.

The club Beckham loved as a kid continues to receive his affection, and as he entered the foregone match, he visibly held back not pining sadness, but joy unbridled as the terraces chanted his name with love and conviction yet again.

Arguably Milan's best player during those last 30 minutes, Beckham exited the Theater of Dreams still a primary player. As the curtains fell, he dressed in costume, donning a green-and-gold scarf in support of the populist anti-Glazer movement, creating another indelible image across a storied career.

If the most-capped Englishman stays healthy and continues to play often and well enough for Milan, he seems odds-on to get a final chance at glory and make the squad for the 2010 World Cup.

There lies the final catalyst in what has always been his personal crusade to fully and finally restore his pride after his personal hell in the 1998 World Cup.

The simple man who, so unwittingly, shouldered the game across continents, is at least deserving of the chance to extinguish his career in a last, personal blaze of glory and redemption.

You might even say the fans of the game deserve it too: Witnessing the midfielder, commodity, and tentative icon returned to his element on pitches across South Africa as the blinding spotlight on his career finally and mercifully dims and extinguishes.

Ronaldo comforted only by his coffers

Another former United number seven to leave Manchester for the starry skies of Madrid also tasted defeat this night, but for him it was bitter without sweets.

For the always emotional Cristiano Ronaldo, the post-knockout concussion must weigh even heavier, as his Galactico side Real dropped out of Europe entoto as his former club again progressed.

It's been proven before that simply splashing cash around for surfeit of attacking talent doesn't equate to trophied success; in fact it was the same Madrid club who proved it some years ago!

As his old friends continue deeper into Europe without him, the hypersensitive Ronaldo could do little else but scurry off the Bernabeu pitch as cameras caught the familiar look of anguish strewn across his conflicted visage.

But there is no room for regret within these margins. Ronaldo left United to mutual benefit. The club needed the money, and Ronaldo could do little else at United currently, having already won every trophy and individual honor while a Red.

No one should blame him for moving abroad to further challenge his immense talent, but that surely won't stop him from carrying around regret like a bag of bricks.

And as Beckham learned, so does Ronaldo: You can take the player out of Manchester, but you can't take United out of the player.

Cristiano said in February, "Maybe in the future I could return to play there? Of course I miss Manchester United."

Surely now more than ever.

Monday, March 8, 2010

another romantic european night analyzed until its devoid of all anticipation

With each teams' most important player doubtful for the biggest game of the season for either thus far, perhaps a grain of salt should but applied with predictions or previews.

There's a strange tendency for star players to get knocked prior to big matches only to miraculously make the team-sheet, and both AC Milan's Pato and Man United's Rooney were included in their squads for the pivotal clash this Wednesday.

If the latter, at least, remains legitimately injured with knee inflamation, it forces United manager Alex Ferguson to apply Dimitar Berbatov up front alone. Sometimes a good decision results from necessity, not choice.

Without arguing the efficacy of the five-man midfield—the formation Ferguson historically flavors as the season enters its second half—Berbatov is actually the more naturally suited for the reclusive role when compared with Rooney.

There's no doubt the Englishman's form this season has been outstanding enough to illuminate himself regardless of formation, but on each's fundamental strengths, Berbatov should have no problem slotting in at Old Trafford.

Still Written Off

With Rooney inspiring the imaginations of fans worldwide this year, Berbatov has been at times forgotten, at others dismissed entirely.

Even Antonio Valencia, who's linear growth this season existed plainly for all to see, manages to still join Berbatov's name on lists of under-performing players.

While the Ecuadorian's inclusion may or may not be slightly more ridiculous, Berbatov's form this season—and last—precludes him from consideration in such consumer-friendly rankings.

It was bemusing at best, infuriating at worst, when the emotional Bulgarian couldn't get a game in November. Ferguson finally leaked that the forward's ailing knee was resulting in the pine time, which, if nothing else, restored some of the managers' credibility.

Berbatov started the season as he resumed it in December, generally in good form with the occasional mediocre game an exception, not the rule.

If only images of player form were resistant to the faulty memories in which we store  them, we'd not have to check statistics years later to reinforce what is then an incomplete rendering.

But in the 22 matches Berbatov started this season, United are 18-3-1, compared with an overall record of 31-9-4 in all competitions. The moody striker has a goal tally of 9 goals in those 18 starts, never scoring as a substitute.

This is all fine and dandy. But considering the emotional Bulgarian's style, his tally becomes more impressive.

The importance of dribbling and flair

Berbatov's most salient attribute is his ability to dribble past opposition with timing, a subtle shifting of weight, and an inscrutable change of pace.

Unfortunately dribbling has a lower success rate than passing and can often be derided by impatient commentators or fans. Even former United gloryhog Cristiano Ronaldo, currently enjoying absurdly brilliant form at Madrid, can be heard lampooned by Ray Hudson with hackneyed lines about "looks nice, end product? FUUUU".

But in England especially, and at United, where passing is the hallmark, one or few players with individual class and a penchant for the ridiculous is the difference between a draw and win.

Alas, the geometric effect attacking dribbling has remains underrated in the English game.

Essentially, when any attacker can lure a defender into a challenge, and go past him, the mathematical advantage shifts. The defender is subtracted from the equation entirely and more triangular options become immediately available.

Berbatov is one of only two players (Valencia) on United who can singularly get past a defender, and the only one who uses skill to do it. Allow me to run down a list of United attackers, to reinforce my point and slag a few of them off.

Park stays in front of the defense and couldn't dribble oatmeal. Nani will utterly fail more than he'll succeed only marginally. Carrick is an apparition. Scholes can niggle and wiggle but isn't played forward enough by his gaffer. Rooney is better moving without the ball than he is with it. Valencia has the raw strength and speed to get past defenders, but only on the wings.

So, besides being an intelligent and outstanding passer, Berbatov can dribble with aplomb, using the oppositions' weight against themselves like his last name was Gracie.

His ability to confuse and bemuse with the ball—dropping deep, in the box, at the byline, or out to touch—remains the most ineffable, and least quantifiable, aspect of his underestimated value to United.

Even as reports emerge today that Sir Alex will have $100m to spend in the offseason, and targets a striker, it's not alarming to Berbatov proponents, because Owen clearly isn't the long-term answer for a third striker, just as Saha and Tevez apparently weren't either.

Forza... United?

When Milan and Manchester finally resume yet another glorious tie on Wednesday, Berbatov will have the stage to showcase his utility to any stubborn critics.

His aforementioned strengths should translate directly to the style United will hope to employ, as being better at holding the ball and passing makes Berbatov more naturally fitted for this European role.

The 4-5-1 and the 4-3-3 are really different names for the same thing, and in such a formation attacks become naturally more horizontal than vertical, mitigating Berbatov's retarded speed.

The five-man midfield also necessitates a passing forward, and Rooney's touch can be too rough, lacking the finesse required when an isolated striker more rarely gets the ball.

United already lead on aggregate, three away goals to the good. Knowing that, Rooney's engine and tenacity—the hyped defensive aspects of the forward's arsenal—might lend themselves better without the ball.
But with it, Berbatov is virtually peerless not only at United, but in England and across Europe.

Those who manage to suggest that his transfer was a bomb are either positively naive, or likely dissuaded by his nuanced style.

Make no mistake, though, that the ones who enjoy his brand of football the least are the opposing players as he shrugs them off like autograph seekers.

With Rooney limping, the result of playing too much this season, there's no better time for Ferguson to be forced to try something that made sense a lot earlier, before United's talisman became overworked.

Though a Rooney on life form might be better in the role than a Berbatov in only good form, less will be required from the player more aptly suited to the lone striker role, especially as Milan must win by two at Old Trafford to advance to the quarterfinals.

And it's the sensitive Bulgarian's romantic style that makes him a fine—but dissimilar—replacement for Rooney when Milan march into town that frigid evening.