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Apr 182013

W e s t H a m United 2 -2 M a n c h e s t e r U n i t e d
67074426 robin vanpersie getty1 De Gea Gets Hammered!Is there anything left for Manchester United to play for? United only need some combination of their own wins and losses and Manchester City losses and draws that make seven points to clinch the Premier League championship. Rhetorically, however, the players say that they want to win the Premier League in historic style–despite these dropped points–and overtake Chelsea’s record of 95 points in 2004-05. So there was plenty to play for when Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils stepped out from the tunnel at the Upton Park Cockney noise cauldron against the claret-and-blue kings of the Mile End Road. The fact is that’s never easy at the Boleyn Ground. Those who think Planet Ingerland goes soft South of Wolverhampton need to think again.

West Ham were definitely intent on making it difficult for the Red Devils. Well managed by the veteran Sam Allardyce this season, they have bounced back from a season in the Championship Division with a visible hunger. Performing with a consistently visible edge, the Hammers play consistently well at home, maintaining a position in mid table. Allardyce, maintaining his same-old predilection for putting teams of overachieving, long-ball bruisers out there, just as he has previously done in stints at Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers and much less successfully at Newcastle United, gets the job done by recruiting cheap veterans and young big club rejects. And although West Ham are not at all easy on the eye for their fanatic fans, their lack of finesse has been countered by the kind of ruthless acumen which keeps the fans fear of relegation at bay. A lot of Hammer fans don’t like Allardyce’s style but beggars can’t be choosers in the ruthless jungle that is the Premiership and, more importantly, his players are behind him. Big Sam’s tactics against his old friendly rival, Sir Alex Ferguson saw Mohammed Diamé and Kevin Nolan play high and hard against United’s defensive midfielders, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick, while their loan striker, big Andy Carroll, used his huge body as a battering room against United’s goalkeeper David De Gea and an aging center back combination of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Allardyce has made West Ham both truculent and competitive. With the referee Lee Probert not even the slightest bit interested in blowing his whistle, Carroll went ruthlessly about feeding the three a diet of head-butts, elbows and WWF-style grappling. Accompanied by an aerial bombardment from wingers Ricardo Vaz Té and Matty Jarvis, who took turns humiliating United’s past-it left back Patrice Evra to the point where he resembled the Gimp in Pulp Fiction, United realized they were truly up against it from the get-go.

Indeed, Carroll lads put the stick out there so ruthlessly well that Ferguson spent much of the match verbally haranguing the match’s fourth official, André Marriner, and his cloth-eared boss, the referee Lee Probert, especially after Carroll rendered him glassy-eyed with a sucker-elbow after a 45th-minute corner. Indeed, De Gea had his busiest day ever in a United kit after an early Carroll shot smashed the outside of the far post and venomous snakelike machinations of Vaz Té saw the Spanish custodian make two brilliant saves.

United were not so much on the ropes as being calculatedly lazy and laid back early on. Such tactics are always risky for a team schooled to play in a run-and-gun-style, however. Seventeen minutes in, after a lackadaisical Rooney lost the ball in the opposition box, Diamé stole away with the ball, and played a pair of one-twos with Jarvis, who fed Carroll. Carroll steamrollered Ferdinand, simply shrugging the veteran defender off before slipping the ball back out to Jarvis on the wing. The clever ex-Wolves winger then fired it back toward De Gea’s far post. Diamé met the ball, but fired only a mistimed chip toward goal. Meanwhile, brushing aside Evra, Carroll charged in, pushing the loose ball low toward Vaz Té, who dived to ground and forced a header past a flailing De Gea..

United were never on the ropes. per sé, but with Rooney poor up front and seemingly much less comfortable than in his masterful midfield display against Stoke at the weekend, Phil Jones and Michael Carrick were simply out hustled by Diamé and the ageless Kevin Nolan. When the equalizer did come, in the 30th minute, it was a bit of a surprise and definitely against the run of play. Mostly wasted on the left wing, Shinji Kagawa was finally cheeky enough to dance his way inside and pirouette hither and thither with the ball before flicking a perfect dish for a simple side-footed finish by Antonio Valencia from two feet out

In the second half, clearly coached by Ferguson to maintain their slow-build tactics with a view to wearing the Hammers to a frazzle, United slowly began to dominate the rest of the match. Yet football is a game full of ironies and despite owning the lion’s share of quality and possession, Fergie’s boys walked into a custard pie in the 55th minute when Vaz Tê and Guy Demel shucked and jived past a jelly-legged Evra before working the ball to a waiting Mohammed Diamé at the corner of the penalty area. Diamé spun in and around Rooney before casually firing an exquisite curved left-footed shot past De Gea to make it 2-1.

Dominant from then on, it was just a matter of time before Van Persie scored his 25th goal of the season. Just how Shinji Kagawa managed to nip into the box in the 77th minute and give Reid, Collins and Nolan the slip it’s difficult to tell. Nevertheless, a Kagawa shot bounced off James Collins, ricocheting off both posts before a marauding ever-so-slightly offside Robin Van Persie blasted home the equalizer. It was a bad call from the assistant referee but clearly far less shocking than the decision by the collected officials to repeatedly let Andy Carroll try to turn David De Gea into a vegetable. Indeed, it was sort of amusing to watch Sam Allardyce impersonate a red-faced toddler dispossessed of his toys in a way that we are more used to seeing happen with the Dark Lord Ferg on occasions.

With a Monday home game looming against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, United will be facing yet another team fighting for survival with its back to the wall. Coupled with a looming trip to the Emirates to face another favorite of the officials in a schizophrenic Arsenal side. Reaching a goal of 96 points still, somehow, seems to the least of our worries.

Most encouraging of all on a so-so day, however, was the splendid bravery of David De Gea. Battered and humiliated by Everon’s Marouane Fellaini in the first match of the season, the young Spaniard has gone through the process of a ruthless apprenticeship this season. Well and truly bullied by the gorilla-style tactics of Andy Carroll, De Gea took his punishment well, avoided retaliation and stood his ground. Still doubted by a few cynical blowhards, no doubt, De Gea looks to now have earned his laurels as an apt successor to the legendary Edwin Van Der Sar.

Apr 152013

Stoke City 0-2 Manchester United
Robin van Persie celebrat 010 Ferguson Clinches 900th Win!A joyful late afternoon’s work for Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium despite biting, gusting winds. Having lost three points off their 15-point lead in a loss to Manchester City a week ago, their relaxed victory over a Stoke City side that has stumbled badly toward the end of the season soothed a lot of frayed nerves. Additionally, Robin van Persie, a powerhouse for United throughout the season, ended what has been a two month long long late-season goal drought after scoring with a penalty kick. Now that United only need seven points to clinch, matches on Wednesday against West Ham United and a week Monday at home versus Aston Villa loom large. Indeed, the Red Devils may well already know their destiny by the time they visit Arsenal at the Emirates on April 28..

For Sir Alex Ferguson, for whom it was the 900th career victory, there was a certain kind of redemption after a number of his match stratagems in recent team losses to Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City had failed miserably. Simply unable to drop his exhausted talismanic central midfielder Michael Carrick, but clearly distrustful when it came to the input of squad midfielders Tom Cleverley, Anderson or veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, the Gaffer moved his stocky star English striker Wayne Rooney back into central midfield alongside Carrick. Carrick who has definitely been spooked by the physical tactics repeatedly and ruthlessly used against him by the opposition, was visibly much comforted by the protective proximity of Rooney. Meanwhile, behind them, United’s center backs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic dominated at the back against Tony Pulis’ Potters. This was a bit of a surprise in that Stoke are easily the tallest team in the division, custom built for scoring off the long ball and set pieces. Unfortunately, lacking their tricky winger, Matty Etherington, and his box of tricks full of lobs and clever passing because of injury, Pulis’ team were toothless

Stoke were dreadful from the get-go. Giving up a set piece goal in only the fourth minute, the tall Stoke back line fell into an instantaneous state of malfunction. After Ryan Wootton gave up a corner, Van Persie’s inswinging corner glanced off Kenwyne Jones as Geoff Cameron blocked Phil Jones’s deft second attempt before Carrick was on the spot to prod the loose ball past goalie Asmir Begovic.

Only Robert Huth came close to equalizing for the Potters with a header off a Glenn Whelan free-kick but that was a rare Stoke chance during a slow first half in which United coasted and stayed relaxed on their back foot. And although veterans Evra, Fedinand and Vidic all started to look more than a tad leggy late on, the high work rate of Rooney and Phil Jones made light of their deficiencies. Consequently, 65 minutes in, after the number of hacking fouls showed just how much more tired the whole Stoke team were by comparison. With United slowly, grindingly backing Stoke up toward their own box, and, after Nzonze unnecessarily hacked down Rooney, the Scouser’s pass to Van Persie set the Dutchman free in the box. Nevertheless, RVP was in no way close to putting himself into a scoring position while dribbling the ball. This did not stop a worn-down Andy Wilkinson from panicking and ruthlessly hacking him down, however, and the referee, Jon Moss, showed no doubt whatsoever in pointing to the penalty spot. Guessing correctly, goalie Amir Begovic came close to stopping Van Persie’s spot kick, but the veteran striker hit it just perfectly to the lower left corner where it squeezed home to make it 2-0.

In what was definitely one of the more joyous moments for Manchester United this season, an ecstatic Robin Van Persie heard the touring Red Army singing out his name as he did a jig before running toward his manager while he stood gesturing happily on the sidelines. What followed was a spontaneous bear hug from the burly Netherlander that almost knocked the canny old Scot off his feet. “He nearly killed me! He forgets I’m 71,” Ferguson said after the match. It was a lovely moment. All the more resonant to me because no one who loves the game could conceivably imagine Van Persie ever doing the same thing to his old manager Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
66999180 017737973 1 Ferguson Clinches 900th Win!

Apr 102013

Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City
Rafael cant find a way pa 011 Dire Red Devils Disappoint in Derby!That nasty little bugger did it to to us again! Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero, having been the assassin’s knife almost a year ago when City beat Q.P.R.. in the ebbing moments of injury time in the final game of the season to clinch the Premier League championship on goal average, did the dirty deed to Manchester United yet again. It was a marvelous goal, the result of an incredible off-balance run through a wall of four determined defenders after picking up a superb seeing-eye pass from Yaya Touré. United’s goalkeeper, David De Gea, who had very little work to do on the night, simply didn’t have a chance as Agüero, despite being surrounded at an acute angle and bent at his lowest possible point of gravity, blasted a hard-right footer into the roof of the net. A minor miracle of pure will, it illustrated once again the difference between a weak-willed, arrogant, indifferent, error-prone Manchester United team and opponents who, although they may not actually be superior, have proven to be more resolute, committed and strategically superior.

After having their fifteen point lead at the top of the P.L. table cut down to twelve, United are tripping over their flaccid todgers deep into Lord Ferg’s squeaky-bum time. Yet, despite all their euphoric hysteria and spending 300 million pounds sterling building an instantaneous contender into last year’s champions, City have flattered to deceive throughout a season of interior discontent and flux., their supporters must wonder why their mercenary players could not have shown such drive and togetherness more often. Yet the fact is that United–in the moments when they executed their usual run-and-gun-style tactics still caused City to wobble. And although the Gaffer repeatedly refers to fatigue as the problem, the club’s difficulties have more to do with psychology and tactics than the quality of their opponents. Ferguson may indeed have called Robin van Persie’s performance “fantastic” but the Dutch striker, in spite of more than a few moments of pure inspiration, was just as disappointing as a moping Wayne Rooney., whose most useful moment on the pitch was a hard, two-footed, studs-up challenge on James Milner. Milner, who City’s manager Roberto Mancini seems to coach into a snarling manifestation of Lucifer before each derby match, had a brilliant day, bullying Ashley Young–whose most memorable moments were spent grimacing on the grass from nonexistent fouls and Michael Carrick, who played like a cranky sleep-deprived child in need of a cup of Horlicks and a Farley’s rusk. Their partner in midfield Ryan Giggs simply had a bad day. And although the clock has clearly run down and close to out for Giggsy’s teammate, Paul Scholes, the Welshman simply had an off one. What seemed like a very logical move, removing Young and Giggs, for the possibility of more effectiveness in introducing Nani and Shinji Kagawa after the match was tied, never took place. Doubtless, Rooney was not in a scoring mood, but the advantages of moving him back to protect a wincing, clearly debilitated Carrick seemed obvious.

At any rate, it took until six minutes into the second half after mostly cautious play by both sides before City seized the advantage. Gareth Barry, who did little throughout proceedings but ankle-tap Welbeck and Rooney, had the presence of mind to pick off a dreadfully telegraphed Giggs pass. He squared it to Nasri and Milner’s left-foot shot took a difficult deflection off Phil Jones past a wrong-footed De Gea’s stretched-out right hand.

City’s defense, which has often disappointed this season, looked after a repeatedly shaky Joe Hart well. That is until the 59th minute when Hart read an exquisite curving Robin Van Persie free kick wrong. Well-beaten, Hart took off to block Phil Jones at the far post, only for Jones to miss the header and have the ball squib into the net off his shoulder and then off the the back of Vincent Kompany.

From then on, the handbags came out and, depending upon whether you believe captains and managers should be the ones who try to deal with the officials in the old school manner, or not. City don’t. City were heavily involved in a relentless attempt to intimidate the referee, a clearly jittery Mike Dean. Ferguson and Evra chose to do little while Mancini simply harangued Dean. Later, when when Rio Ferdinand opted to play on despite David Silva being ‘injured,’ Kun Agüero had a long hissy-fit where he, too, verbally abused Dean. Later, Giggs and Barry grappled over a rough tackle, which led to a sort of halfhearted melée. And although nothing violent actually took place, both Dean’s reticence and Evra’s ineffectivety as a team leader added needless extra emotion to the proceedings.

With the game looking more and more like an acceptable draw to both sides, Mancini brought on his mighty atom Agüero. Eight minutes later,Yaya Touré slipped the ball to Agüero inside a crowded box and the Argentine striker located a hole, sprinted, dummied Rafael, zigzagging left to right through Welbeck, Jones and Ferdinand before hitting his brilliant winner.

Last, but not least, with more or less everybody putting in a lackluster performance, Phil Jones looked to have finally cemented a spot as second center half at the expense of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and his partner on the night Rio Ferdinandfor next season. Had he not been forced to deal with a desperately increased workload once Rio got tired and leggy toward the end the match, Jones did well against both Carlos Tevez and Agüero and, now and again, up against big Edin Dzeko. His bulk and work ethic will be very much needed in the match against the extra-large Stoke City crew next Sunday.
Robin van Persie leaps be 004 Dire Red Devils Disappoint in Derby!

Apr 032013

Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
cesc 1702785a The Wages of Apathy: Manchester United Stumble Out of the F.A.Cup at Stamford BridgeAfter playing a dire, miserable game of low-risk football, Chelsea and their manager Rafael Benïtez look forward to an F.A. Cup semifinal against Manchester City while a yawning Manchester United, clearly complacent about having the Premier League Championship completely locked up, looked hungrily toward returning home to their Cheshire mansions where they could text-message their brokers and read travel brochures. Outplayed and intimidated in equal parts, the whole nightmare scenario for millions of United fans worldwide was repeatedly personified in the way which both Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley winced and turned their bodies aside rather than challenge Chelsea’s dynamic midfield enforcer, Obi Mikel Jon, who gave neither one any quarter in midfield. To fold, mutilate and spindle an old cliché: It’s not the fight in the poodle, but the poodle in the fight! And this poodle was a pussy!

Did somebody say this was going to be a classic dog fight? With Chelsea only 22 points behind United in the P.L.? As Russell Brand put it, Roman Abramovich had a harder time getting a crew of his thugs to help Boris Berezovsky hang himself than United gave Chelsea. Indeed, having given away a two goal lead to United in the first F.A.. Cup Quarterfinal game at Old Trafford, they deserve a lot of kudos. Such endurance is applaudable in a young team in transition, especially considering the disheartening loss of its fine young manager Roberto Di Matteo. and despite the hiring of a sad-sack yes-man hack manager in the rotund shape of Rafael Benitez, they have persevered. More often than not left to try and fail minus the presence of old-school leaders Frank Lampard and John Terry, they have found a new backbone in the tough-mindedness of Brazilians David Luiz and Ramires, who perform with a passion alongside the underrated Mikel. I mention all this not because I’m a Chelsea fan but because, by comparison, although United have a more or less an equal number of high-quality performers to the much celebrated Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, we have no warriors of our own save a worn-down, psychologically-troubled Patrice Evra and the tiny Rafael Di Silva who can be admired when there is so much negativity swirling around the club.

Although others my disagree and find the winning of a 20th championship plenty of reward, any absurd notion that this United squad is up there by comparison with the treble-winning team of 1998-1999 is imbibing opiates.

One thing is for sure. It was an absolutely out of this world goal by Demba Ba which turned Stamford Bridge’s Easter Monday into a party and basically saw United instantaneously throw in the towel. Thus, four minutes into the second half, Juan Mata, who had looked tired and jaded throughout the first half, shimmied about with the ball in the left central corner of the box before firing an exquisite tumbling floater as he simultaneously ghosted his way around Rio Ferdinand. As good as this chipped beauty was, just how Ba managed to stretch his full body diagonally to reach the ball and manage to hook it on the volley past a fully extended David De Gea is amazing to contemplate.

Just how totally United capitulated after the goal was scored is shocking to contemplate, yet no more surprising than the aftermath of surrender against Real Madrid after the issuing of a red card by a nakedly biassed referee. The incident, although it’s only a few weeks back. seems like it has turned into United’s customized version of the movie Groundhog Day.Is it possible that our beloved club has been overwhelmed by the ascension of a dominant group of weak-minded quitters? Indeed, the post-match rantings of the team’s captain Patrice Evra, “I was certain we could not lose and I still do not believe it,” are the words of a man unfit for leadership, not the skipper of one of the world’s top football teams.

My bread and butter comes from analysis, so looking back at the first half surely offers clues. One is that Chelsea’s goalie, Peter Cech, made a stupendous save off Javíer Hernandez that defied the laws of gravity. How so sweet a cross from the otherwise consistently awful Nani reached little Chicharito after some deft interaction was put together by Carrick and Cleverley was marvelous to behold. The little Mexican’s header was an arching work of art, so how could it be that vast bulk of Cech was able to twist like a one-handed reflexive human pretzel and, miraculously, save the day(dare I say it?) like a captain.

And thus it was Cech’s monstrous hand that wrote on Sir Alex Ferguson’s wall. United have not won the F.A. Cup since 2004 and this showing has to have yanked the old man’s reality chain. I am not one for using the tiredness excuse but both Cleverley and Carrick have been forced to play too much now that Scholes seems to have finally lost the ability to play more than twenty minutes and Anderson suffers from the same problems of stamina and repeated injury. No wonder Carrick looks wiped out! Valencia, too, looked exhausted and Nani seemed intent on acting the fool, a sort of Cape Verdean manifestation of latter-day Mr. Beane. Phil Jones, who always looks like he’s on the verge of somehow doing something seemed lost in midfield, perhaps so intimidated by the effortless power and bullying assurance of Obi Mikel Jon that he became a passive observer.

Our brilliant puppy striker Danny Welbeck was all enthusiasm and no bite. As with playing for England earlier in the week, every time the lad would scoop up the ball and enter into his long stride, it felt like this time would be different. A lot is being made of Robin Van Persie’s run of bad luck in front of goal and perhaps he shouldn’t have started against Sunderland, but the kind of hard work and pure graft his attacking teammates put out there for him in the first two-thirds of the season is gone. Indeed, although there are already whispers that he will not be missed by the Gaffer if he leaves, the passion of the injured Wayne Rooney is irreplaceable. Without Rooney on his shoulder and no consistent service from Carrick, Young, Nani or Valencia, RVP seemed lost in search of balls that were never coming his way me. His one good chance was a volley which he blasted over the bar into the crowd in the 87th minute. Too little, too late.

Thus, a week from now, the derby game against Manchester City looks like it looms more important in the minds of its fans than their team. A loss to the sky-blue Abu Dhabian rent boys would definitely, at this point, hold more dread in it for those who truly love the club rather than those ho see it as just a receptacle for a paycheck.
cesc 1702785a The Wages of Apathy: Manchester United Stumble Out of the F.A.Cup at Stamford Bridge

Mar 192013

Manchester United 1-0 Reading
Rio Ferdinand 0061 Rios Revival!Manchester United’s match against Reading was like taking a duff date to dance. Could be your sister, your mother, your gran, your stepmother, Lidia Bastianich, Reading, Ragi Omar in drag or Dame Judi Dench. Well, yes, they did what was expected and played poor sad-sack rictus-riddled Reading, but, after a pathetic performance by Manchester City against Everton at Goodison, perhaps a bit more oomph and emotion had been expected. It was an easy, albeit plodding victory over a depressed, poor Reading side. Still a 1-0 win was enough. Enough to put them 15 points ahead of the sky-blue Abu Dhabian rent boys and two steps closer to a 20th League title. Of course, there are nine games left and a City comeback is still mathematically possible, but barely probable nevertheless. Should United win their next game against a relegation -zone mired Sunderland and City lose to a lowly ranked-but-resurgent Newcastle United, the red devils could feasibly clinch in the Derby match on April 8 at the Al-Itehad..

And United’s star of the evening? Well, David De Gea didn’t put a foot wrong; unfortunately, he had nothing top do but work on his English conversation skills with fans behind him in in the Stretford End. No, the galvanizing lord of the light and good was a certain veteran named Rio Ferdinand. The Peckham Kid, well and truly buoyed, it seems, having been recently recalled to the England squad after being involved in a long Wagnerian opera with its current and previous managers, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, was involved in most of United’s clever connective play throughout. Indeed, having bemoaned Father Time’s slow asphyxiation of Rio’s capabilities as probably the most mobile centre-back in the world over the past fifteen as his wonky back and hamstrings have repeatedly betrayed him this season, I’ve been shocked at his recent return tio form andfitness.

Seven minutes in there was a sprint worthy of his mate Usain Bolt, as Ferdinand nicked the ball off Jobi McAnuff’s toe, took off, and then put in a superb fifty-yard seeing-eye-pass for a flying Ashley Young whose shot only narrowly went wide of Stuart Taylor.

Then, however, he took it to the next level when he created Wayne Rooney’s goal in the 21st minute. Indeed, his 20th minute energy surge, a 34-year-olds clever bit of stop-start running, as he backed up Gareth McCleary, surged past Mariappa, tapped a sweet ball to Wayne Rooney and bounced happily on his toes as the Scouse striker fired a bullet at goal which was deflected into the goal off stranded defender Alex Pearce. It was a sweet little ooh-ah moment for Rio, instant nostalgia as, like Ryan Giggs, he seemed to effortlessly throw off the shackles of age, back pain and jelly legs, for a fine minute or two of beautiful purity.

There were eight changes from the side which drew with Chelsea. Only Rooney, De Gea and Ferdinand took the field against nineteenth-placed Reading. With next week’s international break looming, United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson surely felt a sustained break could do the likes of Michael Carrick, Rafael Di Silva and Patrice Evra good. Much of the usual chit-chat on British sports radio has been taken up with discussion of just how much both physical and mental tiredness affected United’s Real Madrid and Chelsea results. Yet beyond the usual giggles about millionaire lifestyles, Wayne Rooney’s pack-of-fags-per-day habit and Ryan Giggs’ sex-life, there was something sad about pundits and fans on Talk Sports, et al ,whinging about the whinging coning from the Gaffer and Chelsea’s Rafa Benitez about players being tired. But with so many younger players from bothe clubs playing for G.B. at the Olympics, in international competition and the usual lack of a British winter break, there has to be a grain of truth in their exvuses. Are the squad all knackered, many fools ponder. If so, what’s the point of having a squad? And how come the constantly injured Anderson and Phil Jones seem exhausted also?

At any rate, aside from Hal Robson-Kanu’s 25-yard effort flying way wide and referee Lee Maon failing to blow for a Nemanja Vidic penalty area pushing foul on Adrian Mariappa. during a Nicky Shorey corner, Reading were mostly invisible. Named emergency manager after the firing of Brian McDermott in mid-week, Eamonn Dolan was like a man looking for a needle inside a haystack that had been tied to his back. Thus burdened, Dolan was smart enough not to get too excited when the warrior of the day, Rio Ferdinand, made a shamefully bad pass back to De Gea which Gareth McCauley picked off, but then, after a fine, tricky run, McCauley gave the ball away when faced down by Vidic and De Gea. That moment was Reading’s high water mark of the day: Welcome to the Premier League!

The second half was simply Dull. Much had been expected from Alexander Büttner and Anderson, but the only thing they were consistent about was giving the ball away. Büttner, Welbeck and Young all took shots before Robin van Persie botched a free-kick that Taylor saved. easily. Sir Alex Ferguson had only one uncomfortable surprise left up his sleeve when, after Ashley Young got into a painful collision with McCleary, he brought on Michael Carrick to shore up the midfield. Having told the press all week just how tired his midfield master was, the boss was worried enough about Reading stealing a draw that he took the route of least resistance and shut up shop.

“We must be vigilant,” Ferguson said after the game when he was asked about bringing on Carrick. “Horses for courses. We let our guard down collectively this time last year. I won’t allow it to happen again.”66434457 wayne rooney getty2 Rios Revival!


Mar 122013

Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea
“I think, therefore I choke!”
article 0 188DA923000005DC 184 634x464 The Choking Kind Choking in sports gets to be a painful habit. I’ve observed it for years in Everton, Spurs and the England national team. But with vices becoming habits and the same old suspects trotting out the usual litany of garbled excuses, Manchester United have not simply had an accident on the Yellow brick Road, but thrown themselves under the wheels of their very own bus. Leading 2-0, United literally had a reeling devastated Chelsea team in the palm of their hand. That the game only ended up tied at 2-2 may be the greatest miracle since Bernadette of Lourdes shared this earth with us mortals. Sir Alex Ferguson’s dog-ate-my-homework excuse, that the lads were mentally and physically knackered after the circus that was the quarterfinal of the European Champions Cup really doesn’t convince anyone in March. What a difference five days makes. How does a team go from relentlessly thinking out loud about winning the Treble and being superior to the now legendary team of 1998-99 to worrying about holding on to its twelve point lead in the Premier League? What happened?

Meanwhile, moneybags Chelsea, for all their problems, have an awesome squad of midfield players which will challenge the rest of the division for at least another decade. Their clownish manager Rafa ‘The Tapas Waiter’ Benítez is a sensitive, funny fellow who needs to grow a thicker skin vis-à-vis the temporary nature of his position and the rivalry he feels toward Sir Alex Ferguson, who has outfoxed him a multitude of times over the years. Benítez, who is proud enough of his Roman Catholic faith that he feels the repeated need to announce to the world that he goes to church at least twice a day, 365 days per year, must, consequently, believes in miracles. A couple of savvy substitutions and a sixty minute choke by United aren’t really much of a miracle when you’re an unbeliever like me, but to Rafa, a draw surely tastes exactly like a win and the refusal of a gentlemanly handshake from the ungentlemanly maestro, the Gaffer, reads like a total diss but is just the human reaction of a bad loser to another one.
All of this, of course, is gassy rhetoric. United scored two sweet goals within the first eleven minutes and, later, Chelsea scored two exquisite goals of their own. However, had David De Gea–who, to be fair, did not have the best of days between the sticks for United, his distribution repeatedly dreadful throughout–not made one fantastic save and five ‘normal’ ones, the two clubs wouldn’t be whining about finding a date in their busy schedules to go at it in a Stamford Bridge replay.

The first goal came from one of Rafa’s substitutes, Eden Hazard, and was a beauty. The second, from Ramires, followed a wonderful move of classy, incisive counterattacking. Benítez’s team have not been renowned for their perseverance and competitive courage under his watch but they would have booked a place at Wembley were it not for an exceptional save from De Gea, jutting out his right boot to deny Juan Mata in the last minute of normal time. Even then, there were still three other separate chances where Chelsea’s fluid midfield penetration might have won the match and prevented the rigmarole of trying to shoehorn a replay into an already congested fixture schedule.

The transformation was remarkable, especially considering  the way Chelsea began the match, their interplay riddled with errors, looking short of confidence and perhaps suffering their own fatigue. Ferguson was entitled to blame tired legs and minds but Chelsea, lest it be forgotten, did not get back from their Europa League tie against Steaua Bucharest until the early hours of Friday.

Thus, it only took five minutes for a perfectly weighted 40-yard lob off the foot of Michael Carrick to completely fool goalie Peter Cech. Deftly placed to a slow running Chicharito, all the Mexican striker had to do was put the softest bit of contact on the ball with the side of his head and United had the lead. It won’t win any awards at the end of the season, but  it was a goal of true, unique beauty, nevertheless. Then, only six minutes farther along, with Chelsea in a state of total disorganization, Wayne Rooney, back in the line-up, lifted a floating free kick in the direction of Peter Cech’s far post. Both David Luiz and Demba Ba leapt high to head the ball, but somehow, both missed and it eluded a distracted Cech, again, and took an awkward bounce into the net to make it 2-0.

article 0 188D3BA3000005DC 30 634x351 The Choking Kind What happened to United then can only be conjectured upon. First the tricky Nani, who had been turning Chelsea’s left back Ashley Cole into a frustrated pretzel, pulled himself out of the game, claiming a hamstring injury. His substitute, Antonío Valencía, never got to warm up properly and somehow never seemed to get his head into the game.  This bit of bad luck was followed by  Cech, who had suffered an abysmal beginning, finally start to make some fine saves. To be sure, just on the cusp of half-time Cech stopped a shocking David Luiz miscue from scoring an own goal, right after stopping a superb shot on the edge of the box from Rooney. Unfortunately, at the same time, a passing rot had already set in as numerous one-touch give-aways saw Cleverley, Carrick, Nani, then his substitute Valencia, and then Rafael and Evra make it simply seem as if no one wanted the ball or felt even the slightest sense of responsibility. In the five minutes before the half time whistle I counted eleven United passes missing their target.

And for Chelsea, before that whistle blew for blessed half time, it’s enough to say that their best chances–when they weren’t being presented with gift passes by Cleverley, who might have been wearing a blue shirt–was a Victor Moses snap shot which hit the corner flag. Indeed, as Benitez left the field, the Chelsea fan entourage–clearly louder than United’s fans who seem to have left it all behind in the Real Madrid match, too–kept singing ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!” Did the tapas waiter feel lonely on his walk to the dressing room? You betcha by golly!

As of Monday morning, Fleet Street has heroicized Rafa as a savvy coach for seeing fit to bring on Eden Hazard and, more importantly, Obi Mikel Jon, but, really what alternatives did he have? With Hazard free on the right flank, Juan Mata and Ramires were no longer burdened with handling Carrick and Cleverley. Free to go where they pleased and gifted the ball repeatedly by Cleverley, Carrick and Valencia, Hazard, Ramires and Mata simply overwhelmed the Reds. And if Carrick and Cleverley felt any sense of adventure or machismo, Obi Mikel, grinning his gargoyle grin repeatedly kicking them into a state of cowed submission. Mikel, who has been relentlessly and repeatedly criticized by the press for his lack of football gravitas, also took on the John Terry role, repeatedly screaming at and cajoling Chelsea’s two erratic center backs, Gary Cahill and the sometimes brilliant-but-childlike David Luiz. For the whole second half, after Mikel took charge, Chelsea quit making goofy errors and the Chelsea midfield performed like a dream.

Chelsea scoring became simply a matter of time. Carrick, so gobsmackingly awesome in the first half hour, suddenly looked like the Gaffer had issued him a velvet smoking jacket and a pair of slippers. Locked in competition with Cleverley, Carrick’s passes were each more and more impetuously misplaced. To their credit, with a visibly aging Patrice Evra repeatedly left gasping in midfield and Rafael Da Silva running from flank to flank trying to stop every opposition run, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand held the fort with an almost perverse stubbornness. In the 59th minute, however, the levee finally cracked. A few minutes after coming on for Victor Moses, Hazard picked up a Cleverley pass, wrong-footed Rafael twice, shifted gears, approached De Gea at an extremely acute angle before curling the ball into the net.

Nine minutes later, gifted the ball by Carrick, Demba Ba took off next to the tiny Oscar. Executing a beautiful double give-and-go they dissected United’s defense before Oscar connected with a sprinting Ramires, who cut into United’s box before firing a perfect left-footer past De Gea, who, although he made fingertip contact with the spinning ball, could not prevent it from squeezing in at the far right post.

All that was left was for United to hang on by their blessed fingertips. Indeed, only an absolutely fantastic reflex save off David De Gea’s foot one minute from time prevented Juan Mata from scoring with a wickedly accurate shot after a fine, mazy run through United’s defense.

There was an incident during the last ten minutes of the game where the cameras caught Rio Ferdinand laying a cheap-shot on his old foe Fernando Torres. Ferdinand may face censure and a suspension over an infraction that the referee, Howard Webb, clearly never caught. These two have been going at it for years and one only needs to go to You Tube to see a number of incidents both were involved in during Torres’ Liverpool days. As Rio has probably been overused by Ferguson lately, however, a few matches off might well do him good.

Just when the F.A. will pick a date for the match replay is a conundrum. Still, provided United can manage to maintain their twelve point lead at the top of the Premier League, a Sixth Round replay should now be a stress-free affair as winning a treble is a vanquished dream. With the prospect of facing Manchester City at Wembley as thee reward for beating Chelsea, a victory would be nice, but is certainly not a priority.


Mar 062013

Manchester United 1-2 Real Madrid
66220586 alex ferguson The Gaffer Rages As United See RedFor anyone who hates Manchester United, the pleasure principle really kicked in last night at Old Trafford. In spite of a glorious Spring night and at least two-thirds of a brilliant Manchester United display that was, at moments, the apotheosis of perfection and grace, United’s stunning, late 2-1 loss to Real Madrid may well be the saddest single moment of Sir Alex Ferguson’s long, brilliant career. In spite of a number of controversies before, during and after the game, the Gaffer’s team gave its all in a vain effort to overcome both Jose Mourinho’s team of neuvo galacticos and a shockingly biassed group of EUFA-sactioned officials. Unfortunately, their all was simply not enough to overturn the capricious will of either the football Gods, or Michelle Platini and his caporegimes at EUFA.

After the fact, EUFA officials have called a disciplinary meeting concerned with the manner in which Ferguson was seen jabbing his finger in front of the nose of the game’s pip-squeak Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, and seconds later as Rio Ferdinand gave the officials face a sardonic round of applause. Yet the fact is that a  bomb went off 53 minutes in when Cakir took his sweet time to show the Red Devils’ winger Nani a red card for what he later explained was the act of embedding his studs into Alvaro Arbeloa’s midriff as he went to control a high ball. And although multiple viewings from different angles of the incident show that a careless Nani actually makes contact with Arbeloa’s elbow before the Spaniard falls over as if machine-gunned, rolls over three times and then springs up on his foot, none the worse for wear and tear, Cakir’s decision stands and life goes on. Of course, a careless Nani really could indeed have hurt Arbeloa, but he didn’t. Notions of “intent” versus “accident” will be discussed for weeks . Now they’re moot.

More questions about the referee later, but, finally there’s a devastated, apoplectic Ferguson who, in over 26 years at the club, has never previously sent one of his assistants–in this case Mike Phelan–to face the press at the post-match conference. “It speaks volumes I am sat here,” a tight lipped Phelan said.

Superb throughout. United let Real keep most of the possession. Rather than locking in nine men behind the ball, United defended effectively in small groups, restricting Real’s desperate desire for usable space. At the same time, when United got a chance to break they took it repeatedly and were faster and more effective than their favored opponents, outplaying them at their own specialty.

Sadly, Danny Welbeck, who more often than not creates his own chances out of nothing, is a shockingly erratic erratic finisher and, his partner on the night, Robin Van Persie is either suffering through a barren spell or is turning out to be the prodigal son of Eric Cantona: An assassin in the Premier League, but less effective on the European stage. At any rate, although the team looked fluid, confident and had the lion’s share of quality, Sir Alex Ferguson’s gamble in leaving Rooney and Kagawa out may have hurt the team fatally. Clearly armchair hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it’s an undeniable fact that, over two legs, United squandered way too many genuine chances. Indeed, when United actually scored they were extremely fortunate as Sergío Ramos accidentally touched a Nani cross, deflecting the ball past an otherwise superb Diego Lopez, who had a dream match.

Only six minutes later, while United kept up the kind of neat passing patterns that reminded aficionados of the brilliant lateral and diagonal  A.C. Milan stylings utilized to great affect seven seasons against us, Nani raised his studs in an effort to catch up with an over hit, high Carrick pass. Nani’s boot was definitely raised and whether there was malice in his heart, or not, the consequences were fatal. That said, there was still palpable shock when the red card was brandished. Once Nani was removed by Cekir, Jose Mourinho instantaneously threw the dice, bringing on Luka Modric.

Manchester United v Real Madrid Nani Jose Mou 2910130 The Gaffer Rages As United See RedModric, having been labeled Real Madrid’s ‘worst ever buy’ by the local press and riding the bench pretty much all season, proceeded to play thirty minutes of absolutely brilliant virtuoso football. Normally dependent on the industry of Angel Di Maria, Mehmet Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Fabio Coentrao, Real’s Portuguese superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, was smothered by the selfless hard work of United’s whole starting team, the hard running Rafael Da Silva in particular. But once the tiny Croatian arrived, the passing lines were narrowed and with United’s full backs always aware of the danger posed by Modric’s lightning turn-on-a-dime footwork to aging center backs Ferdinand and Vidic, Ronaldo suddenly had more time to sprint, surf the angles and pick his spots.

Modric’s equalizer was fantastic. Taking a leaf out of Arjen Robben’s book, Modric gave no inkling of his intentions as he dipped down before straightening up and slotting a bullet off a diving David De Gea’s left-hand post from 23 yards out. Accompanying this dagger to United’s jugular was a an audible whooshing sound. With the Stretford End holding forth at its loudest in years, the pure shock of it was inescapable. And less than three minutes later, with United’s defense trying to regroup and adjust to Modric, the mighty Croatian flea struck again. While holding off a visibly exhausted Evra, Modric fed Gonzalo Higuain. And although Higuain’s attempted diagonal rocket missed the target ,Rafael Da Silva somehow lost his fix on Ronaldo. Whippet-quick the ex-United Wonder Boy made up for all his previous near-misses and failures by arriving at the far post to push Higuain’s errant drive home and give Real the lead.

Despite United being disappointed by the lack of ruthlessness on the part of Van Persie and Welbeck, there can be no doubt that goalkeeper Diego Lopez, bought in as defensive cover for an injured Iker Casillas in January by Real, has in the past week, twice against Barcelona and against United, been playing out of his skin. With Welbeck dominating both Ramos and Varane, Lopez was forced to make save after brilliant save from Nani, Vidic, Welbeck and Carrick. Without their two unlikely heroes, Lopez and Modric, Real Madrid would be headed back to Spain bereft of any hope for silverware this season.

Despite the loss, there are bright spots. Ryan Giggs 1, 000th game is an awesome achievement. 39-years-old and soon to be forty, he is the consummate British professional. David De Gea, Rafael Da Silva and the Reds’ pugnacious captain, Nemanja Vidic were all world-class at the back. Doubtless, because of the loss, Ferguson will be relentlessly criticized by some for leaving out Wayne Rooney. Depending upon which historian you read, it was either Wellington or Napoleon who said: “It was a near run thing!” Sometimes, it seems, you can get it wrong while you’re getting it right!

Finally there’s Cuneyt Cakir, the creepy referee. Having witnessed his card-happy persona previously in games featuring Manchester City, Chelsea, the Republic of Ireland and England, and the very dramatic shows which accompanied red cards for Keith Andrews, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, and Mario Balotelli, I think it’s pretty clear that this referee has political (or other issues) with the British and Irish. Life is like that, of course, and British referees surely own some bigotry’s and prejudices of their own. What rankles, however, is that other powerful managers like Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have protested and won appeals through EUFA against certain referees they feel hold grudges against them before matches are played. Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have missed out on his homework vis-a-vis Mr. Cekir. It will surely not be a mistake he makes again.

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 Posted by on February 25, 2013 at 10:24 am  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Manchester United, Queens Park Rangers
Feb 252013

Queens Park Rangers  0 -2  Manchester United
66038217 66038213 Mr.999

It wasn’t a great win, but after scoring two absolutely spectacular goals, Manchester United maintained their twelve point cushion at the top of the Premier League. While making his 999th senior appearance for  Manchester United, Ryan Giggs guaranteed a victory for the Red Devils after Rafael Da Silva’s  spectacular 20-yard strike had given the visitors a first-half lead. But with ten minutes left to go, with United looking collectively tired and slightly the worse for wear and tear, with Sir Alex Ferguson pacing nervously on the edge of the touchline,  Giggs was played onside by Clint Hill, allowing him to run onto a Nani pass, cut hard left into an obtuse angle and then fire a brilliant chip over an advancing  Júlio César. Brilliant for the full 90 minutes, Giggs, on the cusp of 40-years-old, made it seem all too easy  over a team that just didn’t own the quality to mount even the barest challenge against United’s  solid, relaxed back defensive line.

Giggs, who is the most perfect example of professionalism in the sport, led the way, but much credit is due to the ever-improving Rafael Da Silva. His 23rd minute volley–exquisitely executed with both of his little feet off the ground–came off a superb Julio Cesár save of a Robin Van Persie pile-driver. It was a spectacular goal and reminded this decrepit old fart of the good old days of Bobby Charlton when fans made the error of taking them for granted.  We-ell, happy days are here again! Thus, on a dream night at Loftus Road, while his twin brother, Fabio, on loan at Rangers, watched from the bench,  the tough, sturdy young Brazilian right back mastered Jamie Mackie, a winger who has previously given him much difficulty and made a spectacular effort to clear  a Chris Samba header off the goal line. With Rafael so dominant, Harry Redknapp attempted to confuse the issue by interchanging  his wingers Mackey and counterpart Andros Townsend, but neither one was fully effective, even against United’s weakest link. the aging left back Patrice Evra

Bottom of the league QPR had difficulty keeping the ball and building up any kind of tempo throughout. Completely dependent on the leadership and industry of the taleted-but-erratic Adel Taraabt, Rangers simply offered no bite. Indeed, the only time David De Gea was truly challenged in the match was in the 78th minute when the Spanish custodian saved a  Loic Remy pile-driver. Both Danny Welbeck and substitute Wayne Rooney, back from a severe sinus infection,  came close  to making it  a much more substantial victory late on, but each missed narrowly.  Indeed. Welbeck, who missed a series of sitters, was once again a conundrum wrapped in a gob-smacking conundrum.

Now anchored seven points from safety, Harry Redknapp’s Queen’s Park Rangers look to be truly in need of some mode of divine intervention. Meanwhile, Manchester City, who beat an almost equally abject Chelsea on Sunday at the El-Etihad, still need some magic of their own to catch United with just 12 games remaining. United’s only blip of discontent  could come as a result of its talismanic striker, Robin Van Persie, being injured after accidentally sliding into a T.V. camera pit and injuring his hip. Will he be fit to play at home in the E.C.C. against Real Madrid? Fingers crossed!!!
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Feb 152013

Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester United
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After an absolute gem of a football game, Manchester United’s former star winger Cristiano took the time to hug his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson long and hard. Having scored an awesome headed goal to tie an adrenaline-powered, brilliant game, CR7 may not have changed the minds of those who believe he’ll never be the equal of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the best footballer of his generation, but he did put to rest the rhetoric of the Haters who believe he never shows up mentally prepared for the big games. Indeed, considering just how good the Portuguese pretty-ManBoy is, just how well Manchester United played as a team against him and his supporting cast made for an epic, nerve-jangling, nail-biting night of magnificent football so good that it reminds us that we are human. I won’t be so bold as to believe that we are favorites going into a return match at Old Trafford three weeks from now, but I do sincerely think we own the very slightest, hair-of-my-chinny-chin confidence of owning ever such a slight advantage by virtue of having what will be an especially amped up crowd cheering for us.

65878713 65878372 Simply Marvelous in Madrid!Magnificent throughout, United performed on a razor’s-edge all night, keeping up a consistent balance between a relentless, hard pressing defensive game refreshingly free of the many errors they’ve been subject to all season and a fine ability to execute quick, probing counterattacks that kept the Spanish champions from ever going about their business on the front foot. With goalkeeper David De Gea taking care of business between the sticks at his old club’s nemesis, a star was born. Indeed, so good was the lean, leopard-like custodian that I imagine the rumors of both Barcelona and Real coming to get him and perhaps ultimately paying out the kind of money that was spent on Ronaldo do not seem unrealistic. As with Ronaldo, who was accused for years of being a one-trick-pony capable only of step overs, De Gea has been attacked relentlessly by critics for having difficulties with high crosses and no stomach for the physical side of the English game. Great players do not develop overnight in a vacuum, however. And although Ronaldo’s expensive supporting cast of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Karim Benzema, Sami Khedira, et al, are all fine performers, they were out hustled by the sheer work-rate and commitment of all eleven Manchester United players. Even United’s weakest link, Patrice Evra,, all too often marooned on his old legs somewhere around the center spot, had nine teammates bound and determined to carry his cross.

It was no surprise that the ever-charming Jose Mourinho was more inclined to discuss how badly his tactics were carried out by his players than complimenting United for smothering them. More than a few folks were taken aback by his statement that United “parked the bus” at the Bernabeu. He actually sounded like he was talking about his own team Inter two memorable seasons ago when they played tar-baby to a frustrated Barcelona; but one is never sure whether the self-styled ‘Great One’ is being facetious, or not. Counterattacking has always been a stock-in-trade for Mourinho’s sides. In this sense, with his side built to feed Ronaldo with a relentless conveyor belt’s-worth of passes and attacking relentlessly, Sir Alex Ferguson beat the Great One at his own game.

Just how unfair those bitter comments from Mourinhoare  is born out by just how close United came to scoring at least four times. Robin van Persie, who has been a goal machine, seemed awed at the occasion throughout and even. Ryan Giggs, a substitute who was received by Real fans with the kind of applause the Bernabéu faithful withhold to all but a great few, missed a gaping sitter which he was still be cursing himself over days later.

Those missed chances, however, point to the fact that, tactically, Sir Alex Ferguson got it right. Along with the counterattacking came containment. Phil Jones was incredibly energetic in midfield, both covering for Rafael da Silva as he moved up and slotting in next to him to cut down on Cristiano Ronaldo’s windows of opportunity. Even Wayne Rooney was there backing up Rafael and Jones. Still, even three United warriors couldn’t keep the brilliant winger quiet throughout. Despite being limited in opportunities, Ronaldo came shockingly close with at least three fantastic bazooka-like shots from around 25 yards out that all just missed the goal by a hair’s breadth. And although Real always looked the more relentlessly dangerous team, the only really good chance had by anybody save Ronaldo, happened five minutes in, falling to Fábio Coentrão whose shot hit the post before being pushed away by De Gea’s full-length save.

A weakness every football fans knows about is both sides’ vulnerability to crosses. Yet United, with both Ferdinand and Evans opting to stay close to goal throughout, managing to hold firm. Without the world’s highest-rated goalkeeper, the injured Iker Casillas, Madrid seemed weak at the back. Their stand-in keeper Díego Lopez, bought in January to replace the injured Casillas, along with Sergío Ramos and Rafael Varane, were all given a torrid time by Danny Welbeck.. Criticized by many for not picking a traditional winger like Nani or Young,, the Gaffer opted for Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney pumping in the passes the strong, muscular native Manc.

The first goal of the game, 20 minutes in, proved Ferguson right for being a gambler. With Shinji Kagawa, Welbeck and Rooney all behind Van Persie and the pesky Kagawa repeatedly running in behind him, a frustrated Varane gave up a corner. Rooney’s corner went over Jones, but with Varane and Ramos locked in on Robin Van Persie, Welbeck was able to push away both of them in the six-yard-box, dipping his header past Diego López.  Often too hot to handle for either Real center back, Welbeck also came close to scoring again  five minutes after Ronaldo’s equalizer leaving Varane for dead as he raced for Van Persie’s left-wing cross but botching his footwork as he tried to execute a delicate volley.

Ten minutes later, though, after much frustration for both Ozil, and Di Maria, Fabio Da Silva had trouble in the corner with Ozil. Stealing away with the loose ball, Angel Di María whipped his cross into the penalty area for Ronaldo who rose above a very mortal Patrice Evra–remarkably high with both of his ankles conjoined, like a basketball player executing a text book jump shot–and nodded home a bullet header into the bottom left corner that left De Gea clawing at the empty air.

The second half was more of the same. And although Real Madrid owned the lion’s-share of possession, they never looked capable of being lethal when Ronaldo was off the ball. Frustrated throughout, Real consciously upped their foul count. And, ten minutes into the second half, Varane was unbelievably fortunate that the German referee, Felix Brych, gave him the benefit of the doubt after a thuggish challenge on Evra, who was running unmarked  on to a beautiful defense-splitting Michael Carrick pass.

In the waning moments of the match, both teams battled bravely. De Gea saved yet another Sergio Coentrão effort with his feet, thumping the spinning ball away from inside his right-hand post. Then a screaming Ronaldo free-kick dipped on to the roof of the net. Then a selfless Rooney sent Van Persie clear and Diego López reached to finger-tip the shot on to his post. Seconds later, after a lightning transition, Van Persie scuffed at a perfect pass to beat a wrong-footed Lopez only for Xabi Alonso to clear.

In a last bizarre moment during stoppage time Diego López denied Van Persie. Instead of allowing the resultant corner, the referee blew his whistle, simultaneously ignoring an incident that saw substitute Pepe kick Jonny Evans for no apparent reason.. The good Lord Ferg, often the lightning rod for venting vexation in similar Premier League situations, was a surprising island of calm. A rosy-cheeked Pict Buddha, he calmly raised his hands in the direction of both an outraged Jonny Evans and an only slightly calmer Rio Ferdinand, spread his fingers and broke into a Cheshire Cat grin. It wasn’t a perfect display from his team, but there was no way the questionable ethics of any referee were going to spoil this night.
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