|photo by Alaskan Dude||via PhotoRee|
Oh man, that was painful, and absolutely agonizing. Having just suffered through a tortuous 90 minutes of watching Manchester United and Marseille, I'm a bundle of nerves and not in the best of moods after United finally -- and thankfully -- dispatched Marseille from the Champions League and moved into the quarterfinals. Suffer may not be the right word, as I watched the match with a close friend (we'll call him Dion), was celebrating a birthday, and managed to knock back a beer or two -- Sierra Nevada was the best choice on tap -- while keeping track of the game. So I use the word "suffer" in the general sense, to convey the sense of anguish (especially after Marseille scored on a Wes Brown own goal in the 83rd minute) that I felt during the match's waning moments, knowing that one more goal -- one more goal! -- would put United onto the Champions League sidelines for yet another season.
First things first: I'm glad we won. Relieved may be more like it. United was clearly a superior team to Marseille, displayed more attacking intent throughout the tie, and deserved to progress. It says all you need to know about the 180 minutes of play with Marseille that they were never once able to pierce the United goal line; only Wes Brown was able to do that. I would hate -- and although hate is a strong word, I'll repeat it -- hate to have to watch Marseille for an entire season, because the two games played with them were absolutely stultifying to watch. I'm not sure if I've seen a worse game this season than the first encounter, and this second one was only marginally better.
Next up: Wayne Rooney had a great game. I've been holding off on saying this, but Rooney is well and truly back. He sprayed the ball around the pitch today with great accuracy, vision, and touch. Sure, he had the odd ball or two that didn't quite end up where he wanted it, but overall he was by far the best player on the pitch for either side. His hustle, commitment and desire rang through loud and clear, and it seems we have put the early season issues well behind us at this point in the campaign, and can focus on the one thing that matters: when Wayne Rooney plays well, United tend to win. Not all of the games mind you, but a lot of them. Enough said.
Also: Antonio Valencia was again a revelation. Nani came back from injury, but outside of the first several minutes he had a relatively quiet game. It's understandable; he's been off the pitch for a week and a half, and everyone needs time to work themselves back into the game. Also, one wonders how much Nani is still suffering from the injury inflicted by Jamie Carragher; props to him for playing today at all. In any event, come circa the 60 minute mark, Nani was subbed off for Valencia, and OMG.... The guy is just a powerhouse. The second goal was set up perfectly by the Ecuadorian, and I can't wait to see what he and Nani look like when they're both in there together. One word of warning for the opposition: look out (okay, that's two words, but you get the point).
And: Chicharito is a force of nature. Long-time readers will know I've been on the young Mexican's bandwagon since first I laid eyes on the kid, but he is continuing to amaze even me with his exploits. He bagged two today, and one of my few regrets about the game is that he didn't score a third, as he deserved a hat trick for his effort. His timing and runs are impeccable, and he has an unerring nose for goal. Chicha is amazing, and I hope he's terrorizing defense around Old Trafford for years to come. He's certainly been our "secret weapon" this season, and I would love to see Sir Alex figure out a way to get him, Rooney and Berbatov all on the pitch at the same time. That would be killer.
Now, a negative or two, but take them in the context in which they're offered: we won, but there's always room for improvement. I'm not the type of United fan that is always complaining "We're shite, didn't look good today, etc." We are, after all, the famous Man United, and part of the reason we've been so successful over the years is that the fans support the club. And the players. Full stop.
But Wes Brown and Chris Smalling do not inspire the same level of confidence in me that Rio and Vida do. I know this is not an especially controversial statement, but more a statement of fact. The back four looked leaky today, and despite Marseille not puncturing it -- it was Marseille, after all -- I would hate to face a "real" (e.g., Barca, Real, or Chelsea) team with that duo in the center of defense. Smalling I love, and under Rio or Vida's tutelage, I think he's played tremendously well, but something is lacking with Wes this year.
And: the injuries continue to mount. I've made my case for wrapping the Da Silva twins in bubble wrap before matches, such is their fragile state, but again I would point out that I have almost NEVER seen either one of them complete an entire 90 minutes. Don't get me wrong: I love the little guys, but they are injury prone. And our back line is now officially in tatters: Rio, Vidic, O'Shea, Evans, and Rafael all out. Who's left? Could be a major problem if some of the guys don't get well soon. I have a feeling Oliver Gill could make a comeback....
So, in sum today, just good enough. Not spectacular, but United did just enough to advance to the quarters, and well done. There will be other times for turning in the spectacular. Yesterday, the Ides of March, was a day for doing just enough -- barely.
This is farlieonfootie for March 16.
PS -- Did anyone else take glee when Bayern was knocked out on the dreaded Away Goals rule yesterday? I know I did. Karma's a bitch. Enjoy the off-season in Munich, Arjen.