|photo by MzScarlett||via PhotoRee|
In a match more notable to me for the momentary in-game failure of Twitter -- due to "overcapacity" issues, whatever that means -- United and Marseille played out a dull and listless draw in the Champions League Wednesday night, a game that slowly sucked the life out of those who watched it. Put it this way: if last night was your introduction to English football, you'd rank it right up there with watching paint dry and clipping your toenails in terms of excitement.
I'm struggling for positives here, frankly. In fact, I'm struggling to say much about the game at all. (Ed. Note: In part, this is because I watched the game at the office, interrupted by emails and phone calls, on a dodgy Slingbox connection which offered a clear picture of the action only on closeups. And with full knowledge of the game and scoreline, I just couldn't bring myself to watch the game a second time later in the day for greater insight). It was that bad. The game did leave me with several impressions, though -- which I'm pleased to impart on you below. How pleased you'll be to receive them, though, is another matter all together.
- It was a loud and rowdy Velodrome that greeted the two sides tonight. In fact, it was difficult to tell at times whether the crowd was there to watch football, or had shown up in anticipation of the famed bi-annual all-Provence whistling competition.
- The game was overseen by an all-Deutsche officiating crew. Although there weren't many difficult decisions to make, I found myself praying during the game that the referees wouldn't remember Sir Alex's "typical Germans" comment, uttered after the disastrous knockout game against Bayern Munich last season.
- United maintained decent possession in the first half but had a paucity of opportunities to show for it. Unsurprisingly, with Giggs, Valencia and Park all sidelined, United lacked much of their width on the ball. They appeared overly reliant on Nani, and Sir Alex must have instructed the fullbacks to push forward whenever possible to spread the offense. Unfortunately, relying on John O'Shea and Patrice Evra to pump in quality crosses didn't prove a winning strategy. This isn't to be overly critical; crossing the ball clearly isn't either man's strength. But the observation is offered more to recognize reality: sure, both fullbacks embarked on decent runs forward at times, but neither one is someone who I want to channel our offense through, and their crosses during the match were just not good enough to provide a spark.
- Speaking of Evra, wouldn't you like to see him once -- just once -- finish one of his crazy, mazy runs with an accurate shot on goal? Just once. I'm not trying to be greedy, but it's really not his specialty. And not for lack of trying, either. He's just not very good at shooting.
- The first half was so slow I'm quite certain there was some serious debate in the television booth about showing highlights -- due to a lack of interest on the viewers' part, but probably even more so due to a lack of actual highlights.
- One of the few bright spots I saw on the night -- and I'm stretching here, people -- was Nani's work in the first half. Although he was unable to finish off any of his moves with a goal, Nani ran Heinze ragged for the first 45. In fact, the moves he dreamed up were so good that he fooled even his own body. He must have changed boots at the break, as he seemed to have a better grip on the pitch in the second half.
- The second half began with United having issues maintaining possession. Every time the Reds got the ball they would immediately turn it back to the French, as if fearful of being discourteous to their hosts.
- Scholes was introduced into the game in the 70th minute, and United --as if by magic -- appeared better. All of a sudden United had more possession, and appear much more controlled on offense. They still didn't create a ton of opportunities, but there's no denying it -- it was better. And it was then that Sir Alex's strategy dawned on me: play it tight for 75 minutes, and then go for a goal. United appeared like a canny prize fighter who's saved his strength for the final rounds, when a telling blow will really count.
- Unfortunately that goal never came (and neither did Hernandez, much to my surpise), and United was held at nil in Marseille. The tie reverts back to Manchester in three weeks time, where United will have the slightest of advantages, but may be rue the fact they were unable to score a vital road goal tonight.