Sunday, January 16, 2011

True Grit

photo by Paul Garlandvia PhotoRee

Now that's what I call a game.  Manchester United, showing True Grit and determination, survived a very tough cross examination by Tottenham Hotspur at the Lane this afternoon.   After spending all fall and winter bemoaning the points dropped on the road this season, this was well and truly a point gained for the Red Devils against a very talented Spurs side.

Playing nine against eleven for one death defying moment, United spent the last twenty minutes of the game a man short, thanks to yet another dodgy Mike Dean decision [Ed. Note: how long is one man allowed to keep officiating in the league, when it's obvious his decisions are biased against a team, to say nothing of his general incompetence?  See here and here for examples of me calling Dean out previously for his bias, as well as here for me noting his incredible incompetence.  It's time for this guy to go.]  Despite finishing the game without their right back, United hung tough on the road, and incredibly, had an opportunity to nick the full three points just before the whistle blew.  Sir Alex has to be well pleased with his side's fantastic effort.

United began the game with an attacking lineup, with debatably the side's best eleven starting on the pitch (Carrick and Fletcher could possibly have been swapped for Anderson and Scholes).  And they needed every man out there performing at the top of his game from the very start, as the game began with a crackle of electricity, Gareth Bale's opening cross sending a none-too-subtle signal of Spurs' intent to break through against United for the first time in almost a decade.

And there's no way around it -- you have to hand it to Uncle 'arry today, as he had his side well prepared to take on the Red Devils.  Spurs played at speed and with controlled aggression.  No ball went unchallenged, and Modric, Bale, Lennon and Van der Vaart were quicker to every 50/50 ball than any player on the Red Devils' side of the pitch.  Spurs played out wide and flashed their trademark devastating pace on more than one occasion; it was a scintillating opening gambit, and one that may have succeeded against a lesser side.  In fact, I found myself thinking as I watched the game's first half unfold that Spurs going forward remind me in some ways of the United teams from several years ago: substitute Gareth Bale for a younger Giggs, Luke Modric for a younger Scholesy, and Peter Crouch for....well, never mind.

Although United reciprocated through some early Wayne Rooney shots, the home team were comfortably on the front foot for much of the first half.  The game was wide open and played at a very quick, attacking tempo.  There was absolutely none of the boring, stilted Manchester City approach to the title chase on display here today.  Both teams were one hundred percent focused throughout the match on trying to win it rather than trying not to lose it.

After a rash tackle earned him a yellow card, Rafael seemed to settle into the match, containing Bale better than he did in the opening twenty minutes, and showing some sublime pace and other-worldly dribbling of his own.   I made a mental note to myself upon watching his refusal to back off challenges despite the yellow card that he needed to be careful, as Dean would be looking for an excuse to send him off.  Especially so after the young Brazilian was fouled by Palacios and gestured to the referee as if brandishing a yellow card of his own -- incompetents generally don't react well to people telling them how to do their job, and Mike Dean is no exception.  It was nice to discover that I wasn't the only one thinking along those lines, as Rio Ferdinand immediately went over to have a sharp word with Rafael, telling him to tone it down.  It must be nice to have the luxury of another coach on the pitch, in addition to the legend on the sideline.

The game's second half was played at a markedly slower tempo, but still with great intensity and purpose.  Urged on by the home crowd, Spurs picked up the pace midway through the latter 45 minutes, but were still unable to figure out how to penetrate a determined defensive effort by the Red Devils.  It was another showcase effort from the Serbian master, Nemanja Vidic, who put on a defensive clinic in the middle.  I can only remember one time all day in which he was beaten to a header by the British Flamingo, and Vidic repeatedly flung his body throughout the 18 yard box, blocking shots and clearing the ball with head, chest and legs time and again.

Despite the introduction of new players -- Anderson and Chicharito for the visitors, and Defoe for Spurs -- the tenor of the game remained the largely the same, with Spurs on the front foot and United looking dangerous on the counter attack.  It was only after Dean sent Rafael to the shower that you felt the Red Devils would reluctantly settle for a draw.

Today was a tremendous team effort by United -- hell, even Chicharito chipped in with a game-saving defensive tackle -- and one that I believe will serve them well going forward.  The majority of United's rivals may have gained a couple of points this weekend, but the Red Devils gained a renewed sense of purpose and -- dare I say it? -- invincibility.

This is farlieonfootie for January 17.

Game Day Beer Review: Cigar City Brewing Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale (5.50% ABV).  Pours a dark, Coca-Cola brown with a two fingered head that lingers, leaving behind copious, thick lacing.  Maduro smells of roasted malts and chocolate, with just a slight tease of hoppiness. The taste is maybe a little lighter than I expected, but that's alright; it's malty with a wonderfully dry finish. This is an eminently sessionable beer: A-.

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