We are privileged to announce a new contributor to the United for United Newsblog. Teo Teng Kiat is an ardent Man United supporter and an avid sports writer. His articles have been featured in publications such as The Ridge, the National University of Singapore’s oldest student publication and he has generously agreed to write for the U4U Newsblog. You can reach him via his blog at ball-lust.blogspot.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/tengkiat
Red Devils Break German Jinx
article by Teo Teng Kiat @ball-lust.blogspot.com
After ten minutes in the Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, the away United supporters could be forgiven for wondering whether this was the first leg of the Champions League semi-final we were supposedly playing in, or whether it was just a training session. Manchester United were absolutely dominating Schalke at their own home, penetrating the German side’s defense at will. If not for Manuel Neuer’s one-man stopping act, the two-legged tie would have been over after the first half alone.
In the end, once Ryan Giggs had broken the deadlock by racing on to a superb Rooney reverse ball and finishing coolly through the onrushing goalkeeper’s legs, the floodgates threatened to open when Rooney added a second goal two minutes later after latching onto Hernandez’s flick and slotting the ball clinically into the bottom corner. Though that did not materialize, it still left United with a two-goal advantage to take back to Old Trafford for the second leg, where we will surely finish the job.
Sir Alex had elected to start with a 4-4-2, in essence the same XI that played at Stamford Bridge in the previous round, with Fabio coming in for O’Shea. It was quite a departure from the usual 4-5-1 in European away games that we tend to adopt, but I think Fergie has figured out what works for United over two-legs in Europe, after the goalless first-leg at Marseille in the second round.
The resulting performance vindicated the gaffer’s selection and tactics. United had 67% of possession throughout the game, and in the first half alone created 12 chances. Fabio gave a storming performance at right-back, full of verve and enthusiasm, showing why the scouts at United regarded him as the slightly better twin compared to his brother. He made one superb run in the first half, carrying the ball on the left all the way to the penalty area before just failing to release Rooney in the box. He still has a lot to learn, as evidenced by the fact that he has a tendency to dive into tackles too easily, but he and Rafael have the potential to be first-team regulars in years to come.
The midfield partnership of Giggs and Carrick seems to work perfectly at the moment. Imperious against Chelsea’s central trio in the previous round, the two United players bossed the game again this time round. Carrick gave a superb performance once again, carrying on his excellent form in the previous few matches. Composed and hardworking, he tracked back everytime Schalke came forward, and made numerous interceptions to break up the play by virtue of his keen positioning, while pinging accurate balls all the over the pitch, long or short, when we were on the attack. This is the kind of performance we know Carrick can produce, and the criticism early on in the season was that he wasn’t producing anywhere near his best on the field. The player who seemed to have suffered a damaging blow to his confidence after Xavi’s masterclass in the Champions League final two seasons ago seems to have regained his morale, judging from his recent performances. He managed a game-high 112 passes, completing 98 of them, and was the man of the match for me. Hopefully he can keep up this good work for the crucial run-in.
Rooney’s partnership with Hernandez also seems to be blossoming; the little Mexican’s energy and constant running, not to mention his superb sense of positioning, dovetails nicely with Rooney’s free-role, and affords him the space to drop deep. Maybe it hasn’t been mentioned very much, but Rooney has quite a superb range of passing, and many of his cross-field balls were delivered with pinpoint accuracy, ala Paul Scholes. He has this ability to orchestrate attacks, and combined with his ability to also get into the box and finish off moves, could possibly develop into quite the complete player we have at the club.
In truth, it was a simply fantastic performance from United. Yes, Schalke were poor, and looked a little overawed, but this was a side that managed to put seven goals past the defending European champions previously. It was impressive how United imposed themselves in the game early on, and never gave the German side a chance to settle in. In the process, United became the first ever side to keep six away clean sheets in a single Champions League season, after not conceding a single goal in all our away games, while Van der Sar collected a record 50th solo clean sheet as well. Giggs also became the oldest player to ever score in the Champions League, beating Inzaghi, and matched Raul’s record of scoring in 15 Champions League seasons.
As their defender Metzelder said after the game, “Against Inter everything we tried worked. Against United we couldn’t even try anything.” The boss himself commented: “Our concentration, the intensity of our play and the speed of our passing were all excellent tonight. It was a top performance. I’m really pleased with the players, every one of them has done fantastically well tonight.”
Perhaps United haven’t been given enough credit by most people, even their own fans. Admittedly, we have not set the footballing world alight with our play this season, but to be on the cusp of a 4th league title in 5 years and a 3rd European final in 4 seasons surely means we are not as average a side as we’ve been made out to be. The Red Devils go marching on.