Sunday, March 10, 2013

Splitting Hairs: Final Thoughts on Manchester United vs Real Madrid

photo by miss pupikvia PhotoRee

It's rare that we find ourselves agreeing with Scott, but it does happen on occasion:

There were only two things worse than the horrendous red card call during the Real Madrid - Manchester United Champions League clash on Tuesday: Gus Johnson's commentary and United's defending after the red card call.  Yes, there is no doubt that the foul did not warrant a red card.  However, it did warrant a yellow card and I'm surprised that so many have questioned even that - it was the very definition of a dangerous play and deserved a warning, for which yellow cards are expressly manufactured, in Sri Lanka I believe.  That there was no intention is exactly the thing that makes it yellow instead of red.  That Nani did not even see Arbeloa does not remove it from the realm of a yellow card because, quite frankly, a player should know that flying through the air with studs up on a pitch with 21 other players just might result in spearing one of them.  Yellow card. 

A yellow card would not have altered the course of the game as the incorrect red card did and it is a real shame we couldn't see the game play out without referee interference.  But here is where I will veer from the opinions of many (all?) others.  I propose that the red card affected the final result not because of the numerical advantage given to Real Madrid but, rather, because United was so psychologically affected that they failed to continue to do what they had done so well up until that point - defend.  Sure, their ability to counter-attack was hamstrung by a missing player, but they were already a goal up.  All they had to do was keep the visitors from scoring for 35 minutes.

Before you scoff and sarcastically retort "oh, that's all?", consider how the game had gone up until then.  Real Madrid had enjoyed overwhelming possession at Old Trafford but had only managed a few relatively tame efforts on goal.  Why?  Because United had defended very well up until the red card (Carrick was a force, snuffing out dangers all over the field as if he were playing Wack-a-Mole with his feet) and Real Madrid had failed to take advantage of their opportunities (such as Ronaldo failing to get on the end of Higuain's wicked, low cross to the far post).

Subsequent to the red card, however, despite Ferguson's efforts to rally his team and the crowd after bounding to the field, United began to play like a different team.  This was not due to the numerical disadvantage, but rather it seemed they felt they were doomed to an inevitable fate.  Losing a player certainly makes it difficult to go forward and score goals and if you do commit men forward you leave yourself exposed at the back.  But United were up a goal and only had to keep executing defensively, something they absolutely could have done with 10 men, if they kept their heads.

Alas, the team that had kept the vaunted Blancos at bay for so long caved to the psychology of the moment.  It was as if United had taken the belief with which they were playing until that point, wrapped it in a red card gift box and, pouting and pitifully, handed it to Madrid.  Forget about Raphael deliberately using his arm to stop a ball from going into his own net in the 61st minute (a huge bit of fortune for United that has been overshadowed by other events).   Rather, consider the two goals.

First, we have Luca Modric given 14.6 acres of space just outside the penalty area while no fewer than 8 United players are in the box admiring from afar.  Finally, Carrick realizes that something must be done and charges at the diminutive Croatian.  And by "charges" I mean in that 9-year-old-rec-league-player-who's-never-heard-of-overcommitting sort of way.  What was the normally-reliant Carrick thinking storming up to a supremely talented midfielder like Modric?  Close the space and prevent a shot - yes - but sprint right up to such talent, allowing a simple touch to so utterly beat you and leave 7.3 (of the aforementioned 14.6) acres of space in which to shoot.  That Modric's shot was so brilliant merely takes away from the horrible defensive blunder committed by Carrick (and the whole team).  Simply closing Modric down without overcommitting would have snuffed out the danger and forced the ball wide yet again.

Next, consider the second goal.  Higuain rifled a duplicate of his first-half, low, far-post cross.  Raphael failed to track back and cover Ronaldo who had learned from his earlier mistake and put in the extra effort to sprint the last few yards and be there for the tap in.  Another defensive error, this time combined with extra effort from Ronaldo, probably the result of the surging Madrid tide of confidence and belief that came from the red card decision.

Neither of Madrid's goals were due purely to a numerical advantage, per se.  In each case it was the resulting team psyche that proved crucial, whether it was making a grade school defensive error, failing to track back or sprinting the last few yards.  Maybe I'm splitting hairs here but sports require mental toughness as well as physical toughness and ability.  Yes, United were absolutely unfairly disadvantaged by the red card.  But it was their reaction to that disadvantage, rather than the disadvantage itself, that sealed their fate.  Yeah, probably splitting hairs.

And as for Gus Johnson, he's still pitiful.  I was offended only three minutes into the game and it only got worse from there.  When will he ever stop saying "Man Yoo"?  And when will he ever realize that occasionally strikers try to shoot first time instead of "failing to control" it.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs again.  Or maybe it's just a mental thing.

This is farlieonfootie for March 10.

No comments:

Post a Comment