With all the talk mainly focused around the (apparently permanently) misfiring Fernando Torres and the speculation in Carlo Ancelotti’s faith in him, United were quietly preparing for the game in hand, coming off the back of a pedestrian victory against Fulham.
In the opening exchanges, Chelsea threatened to bring the game back into contention, generally controlling the play. However, once the nerves had settled United began to bring the game back into balance, gaining meaningful possession, encouraged by Hernandez’s disallowed goal they began to push on.
And so it was United’s night, a goal from Hernandez in the 43rd minute with Park’s superb finish immediately after Drogba’s equaliser, meant Sir Alex Ferguson’s men advanced through to the quarter finals, likely to face Schalke. As such, here are five things that may be taken away from the game.
Manchester United are starting to get credit for their qualities
Before making this point relevant to the game, I point you in the direction of one Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail. An article published on the 12th of April that can be found on their website, he wrote a piece entitled “Dismiss United at Your Peril”. In this he suggests that far from the criticism United had been receiving throughout the year, in fact what had actually happened was Ferguson had quietly, and still is rebuilding what may be his next truly great squad.
This season earlier on, the current squad were considered a bit weak, flattered by the fact those around them were also worse off. If anything, United were top of the table by default. Now, with the returns from injury and players hitting form when they are needed most – notably Carrick and Rooney – and suddenly Ferguson’s team looks stronger than it ever did earlier on. Although it could be argued it is still not quite there yet as a unit, it is indisputable that this team now know how to win, adopting a cavalier spirit that has seen a surge in confidence that has surpassed the gritty results that were being ground out in the opening months of the campaign.
On Tuesday night, this was even more evident. Although nervy in the opening stages, United took hold of the game, with accurate passes and a constant attacking threat that was emphasised by how well Rooney and Hernandez complimented each other, Ferguson’s tactical selection and chosen team was clearly justified. To summarise, not one United player was a let down on the night. Extremely positive all round.
Wayne Rooney is playing with a smile
After the controversy at Upton Park, Wayne Rooney seems to have regained some swagger about his play. Suddenly, the angry young man we have become accustomed to is looking to enjoy his football, relishing every moment on the pitch and looking to get involved in every play that it would allow. Frankly, when Rooney adopts the attitude he has done of late, then the whole team picks up with him and the standard is taken up another level. He may not have found the scoresheet, but what truly impressed was his contribution throughout the attack.
For example, we saw during the game many cross-field pin point passes. Each time finding their target just as he intended to do, allowing play to continue smoothly with little trouble. His ambition and creativity was admirable, the epitome of which was displayed when in the closing stages of the match when, with the game beyond Chelsea, outrageous attempt to catch Cech off his line was made. Cech caught it comfortably, but the sheer audacity of such a thing showed the transformation that has taken place. He may not have lost some of his aggression, that would be to his detriment, but a happy Rooney is, as one would expect, a better Rooney.
When Hernandez has been paired with Berbatov, the promise of such a partnership was clear. The languid, relaxed style of Berbatov contrasting nicely with that of the fast paced poacher that is Chicharito. However, with the “Little Pea” becoming ever harder to leave on the bench, and the resurgence in Rooney, a new partnership is beginning to blossom, possibly relegating their Bulgarian team mate to a more regular bench role. With the Mexican forward making darting runs everywhere, giving defences another worry up front, has allowed Rooney to play in a role most suited to him.
It has meant that an understanding has developed between the two that has gelled a lot faster than many would have expected. Indeed, the results have been there to see, combined with the wingers have meant United have a far sharper attacking edge. The potential for this to go further, means opposition defences have reason to be worried.
Van der Sar is the World’s Greatest Left Back
I hope such an outlandish statement is taken as the joke it was intended to be, but a special mention should be made for the big Dutchman, due to retire in the Summer. It seems that in a season that appears to be his swan-song, Edwin is providing the United faithful with reason after reason to try to convince him to stay, or give them plenty of memories with which to remember him by, the latest of which was his superb tackle to deny Anelka an attacking opportunity when he had broken free, defying belief. The respect he has garnered at United is well deserved, again providing the rock between the posts which refuses to be shifted. A third Champion’s League would be the perfect end to an established career as one of the game’s finest goalkeepers. The next in line is not an enviable position.
Attitude, Industrious Park Ji Sung and Torres’ Misery
When Drogba’s equaliser came in the 76th minute, many United fans were bracing themselves for what may well have been a tight finish. Suddenly the momentum had gone Chelsea’s way, and despite the fact they were down to 10 men there was everything to play for. One goal would seal it for them, and it was expected that they would go all out to make sure it happened.
It was quite the surprise then, that merely seconds after play had restarted, United played the ball upfield straight from the kick off, to Valencia, eventually playing to Rooney who cleverly passed to Giggs, who then played a wonderful ball through to the open Park out on the left, having moved there after Nani was replaced by the aforementioned Valencia.With that, Park controlled the ball and drove the ball home past Cech, restoring the 2 goal advantage United had earned. Any hopes Chelsea may have had, were extinguished as quickly as they had been set.
The positive attitude to conceding was inspiring. Ancelotti’s team may well have to take some blame for being slack in defence, but United were clinical in their play, catching them off guard and using the opportunity afforded to them. On that note, the efforts of Park should also be noted. Throughout the game he put in the hard working performance we have come to expect.
Indeed, Tuesday night was a performance the whole team could be pleased with, but the tireless actions of Park from start to finish deserves a mention, and the superb finish he provided for his goal was thoroughly deserved. Finally, it seems the ever suffering Fernando Torres, once again could not repay the benefit Ancelotti had put in him, culminating in an embarrassing half time subsitution. I have no doubt that he will fire again, it would be naive to think this run of form will go on forever, but to United’s benefit, he was kept at bay just a little while longer.
It may be too early to proclaim United’s advancement to Wembley. Indeed they have the favourable draw amongst the rest of the remaining European elite. However, with Schalke looking overwhelmingly likely to progress against Inter Milan. the potential opposition in the semi final stage is not to be underestimated. The Champion’s League provides no guarantee in results, particularly at this late stage, and yes, that includes Barcelona, if Real Madrid have anything to say about it.
To summarise, a strong performance all round for United. A well deserved victory that bodes well for the rest of the season. The strength of the squad has increased in recent weeks, perfectly timed for the set of games that follow. The excitement is reaching fever pitch for the red side of Manchester.
Written by Zayd Jawad for RedFlagFlyingHigh.com
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