Sunday, April 11, 2010

free verse post-Europe

Man United's departure from Europe was always inevitable, but it somehow remains suprising.
With a squad comparatively thin to Europe's better sides, few picked United to triumph over Inter, Chelsea, or Barcelona abroad, much less past the London side domestically.

But as the both campaigns progressed, United stayed in contention without always playing their best, and seemed likely to progress past Bayern after a swashbuckling first half.

But if the Reds' slight Brazilian right-back wasn't sent off, visions of the Manchester side prevailing against Barcelona or an even more complete Inter side were never founded.

Because ultimately, a perhaps forced disinclination to purchase resulted in a predictably incomplete United side. This imbalance forced, and was worsened by tactical misinterpretations and player form, two of many factors fulfilling United's destiny this season as European bystanders.

Filling the void

One obvious theme became popular before, and throughout, this season: How will Man United fill the gap left by their most effective player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, a more subtle vacuum of creativity existed through the side's core, not on the wings, which were supplanted principally by Antonio Valencia's growth, as well as some good luck towards Nani's still unpredictable displays.

Through the core of the side, back from defense where their first choice starters were often injured, into midfield, United clung to Darren Fletcher's brilliant form throughout the season to often--but not always--mask an underlying deficiency.

With Wesley Sneijder on the market, manger Alex Ferguson couldn't--or wouldn't--be tempted to buy, despite lacking an attacking, central midfielder who could redeem some of the spontaneity of Ronaldo's appreciable offensive arsenal.

Scholes was never expected to feature everyday, Carrick was. But the younger Englishman's continued dismal form from last season continued consistently throughout this year, causing his gaffer to pull out the shoe-horn on a number of occasions.

An ever-changing starting line-up featured anyone from Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, or even Park, as attacking support for a striking line-up that increasingly consisted of only Wayne Rooney.

However, neither of the former three have enough defensive knack to allow the 4-4-2, United's best formation, and Park sucks too much at playing with the ball to fit into that role at all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Manchester United-Bayern Munich: Player Ratings

United hosted Bayern Munich in an epic Champions League quarter-final return leg Wednesday evening.
The home side dominated possession from the start and opened up the scoring early when Gibson was afforded great space and nimbly curled from range past a gaping Butt.

United struck again when Valencia patiently proffered Nani up in the six-yard box; the Portuguese trickster back-flicked past the despairing goalkeeper for a 2-0 advantage inside ten minutes.

The dream continued when Nani, for once, used precision over power from range after Valencia crossed low through Bayern's box at the 41st minute.

Olic, though, pegged a massive away-goal back for Bayern just before the break to setup a tense second frame as United led 3-1 (4-3 on aggregate).

Rafael's mind went astray in the 55th minute, forcing his body off the pitch for good after earning his second yellow for no cosmic reason. Bayern therefore dominated the second half.

In the 75th minute, Arjen Robben volleyed brilliantly direct from a corner, after Carrick had released Bayern carelessly. Robben's connection was perfect, arrowing into the far, bottom corner.

Bayern held on late against slight pressure from United's ten men, and, after one of the best games of the season, the Germans agonizingly leave Manchester United behind, winning on away goals 4-4 and advancing to the semi-finals to face Lyon.

Van der Sar (7): Perhaps could have done better for Bayern's first goal when he was off-balance, allowing Oljic to score from an unforgivable angle. Otherwise he was mature and made some legitimate saves from Robben and Ribery to keep United in it until the death.

Rafael (4): His rambunctious tendency brought life into his side's winning first half display. Should have scored or assisted United's third but his ball control was pitiful breaking through clean on goal. Otherwise he tackled with alacrity and ran around the pitch like a madman. However, his naivete caught up to him early in the second half when he made a deplorable transgression, sent off after a needless second booking. His knack for immaturity is sometimes cute, but in a game of this historic importance, such behavior is unforgivable for any professional.

Ferdinand (6.5): Looked better and more assured today than in recent shaky performances. Bayern's forwards aren't the best in the world, but Rio left the most glaring mistakes to other players today. Out of position, perhaps, for Bayern's first.

Vidic (8.5): Inspired his side before and during the match. Faultless and dominant today in a losing effort. There is no reason to believe United will sell him in the summer.

Evra (7.5): Forward and back excellently. His cardio and athleticism are second to none.

Nani (8): Arguably the best game of his United career, eclipsing his match against Arsenal in January. Nani looked more like Ronaldo and less like himself throughout, scoring two fine goals in a huge match for the club.

Fletcher (8): Each match the Scotsman leaves everything on the pitch and can assume no blame for United's tragic departure from Europe.

Carrick (3): Out-muscled for Bayern's first and throughout, Carrick was shit again. Sure, he can pass the ball sideways under no pressure. Under little tonite, he turned the ball over for no reason, allowing Bayern to earn the corner that led to Robben's masterclass strike. He was outmuscled comically for Bayern's opener. Advantage: Team without Carrick. He has no base. He prances like a doe. If United buy in the summer, it's an attacking central midfielder they need before a forward or goalkeeper. Sneidjer would have been ideal last year; perhaps Gourcuff is available this summer, along with Blanc?

Gibson (7): Scored smartly from range, curling with finesse for United's first goal. Contributed to dominate possession in the first frame. Ineffectual in the second.

Valencia (8): The most improved player in England this season, the Ecuadorian assisted United's second and third strikes and used his speed and strength in attack and defense all game. Prefers his right foot, though, so obviously, it's a wonder he's able to get in as many crosses as he does.

Rooney (5): Miraculously recovered from a sprained ankle. Rooney didn't do much throughout, especially after taking a deliberate knock in the first half. United scored today from the outside-in without the only half-fit Englishman ever being greatly involved. Notable long-ball to setup United's second.


Butt (4): Looked less like cheeks and more like a hole in the first half. Made saves in the second.

Demichelis (6): Poor in the first half during some wonkish transactions between the Bayern backline. Didn't have much to do when United went down to ten, fortunately.

van Buyten (7): Bigger in stature and strength to his partner, the Belgian got forward to contribute and shoot and was the most effective Munich defender tonight.

Badstuber (3.5): Null.

Lahm (6.5): Enjoyed more space forward after Rafael walked slowly off. No Bayern defender had a good first half, but none either were troubled in the second.

Schweinsteiger (7): Surprisingly effective in the tackle, the German attacked with range and looked lively, particularly in the second half.

van Bommel (6.5): Got booked early which changed his approach. Still got stuck in though and passed his club sideways out of defense.

Ribery (7.5): Especially dangerous in the second half. Cracked a few shots on target from range. Good footwork and balance. Rarely turned-over.

Robben (9): It wasn't as legendary as Zidane's 2002 strike against Leverkusen, but it was of the same ilk. Masterclass stuff from a world-class player. Robben was the best player in the world for the first half of last season before losing form for Madrid. Often injured, he is outstanding when on form. Somehow defenders allow him to cut inside from the right. As long as they do, he'll score goals similar to this, but rarely as nice.

Muller (5): Enjoyed no joy as center forward today.

Olic (6.5): Bullied Carrick for Bayern's first, importantly changing the mood of the match just before the break. This seems like normal service for him. Doesn't do anything spectacular with the ball, but can end up in good spots through strength and knack.