|photo by walknboston||via PhotoRee|
There's a funny thing about this game called football. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, just when you think you know what's going to happen, just when you get pretty sure of yourself, it's got a way of humbling you. And in a way, that's what happened to United today.
The first half of United's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City was relatively even. I shaded the first 20 minutes of the game on my scorecard to United, as they created several great chances, and should really have gone into the half up a goal. Particularly painful were minutes 14 through 16, in which Dimitar Berbatov missed not one but two great chances in quick succession. Passed through into goal all by himself, the Bulgarian failed to beat City 'keeper Joe Hart with the first chance. With Hart beaten on the second opportunity, Berba was unlucky not to score on a tap in resulting from Nani's inch-perfect cross. Thwse two misses would come back to haunt the Reds as the day wore on.
As the half progressed, though, so did City's confidence. Not having had much to cheer for in the first half hour of action, City picked up its play in the last 15 minutes of the first half, and created several close opportunities of their own. Gareth Barry hit only side netting, but Edwin Van der Sar was called into action to deny Mario Balotelli from long range and Joleyn Lescott was just over the bar on a free header in front of the United goal.
City's improved play would foreshadow events of the second half. A clearance lapse by Edwin Van der Sar, and a misplayed pass-cum-turnover by Michael Carrick handed the initiative to City, and Yaya Toure didn't make the same mistake Berbatov made earlier. Just when you started to think Michael Carrick was back, the renewed confidence was there, the forward passes were there, a square ball from the English midfielder was intercepted by the gangly Ivorian and tucked neatly between VDS's legs for the game's only goal.
City kept the pressure on, and United appeared dissheveled and lacking direction for long periods of the second half. Blame it on the schedule. The Reds lacked mojo this afternoon. They needed someone to take charge of the game, grab it by the scruff of the neck, but what they got was a lot of nothing. No one stepped up; not even the introuduction of Chicharito was enough to change the course of events this afternoon.
And once again Mike Dean reared his ugly head (as I knew he would). The FA's doofish pawn inserted himself into the headlines with a harsh red on Paul Scholes when only a yellow was warranted, virtually finishign off any chance United had to fight their way back into the match. Although Scholes clearly caught Pablo Zabaleta high, his foot was no higher than the Argentine's going into a 50/50 tackle, and if Zabaleta came off the worse for the challenge, it was amazing how quickly he recovered from the supposed red card blow he received.
United's fifth loss of the season was painful. But to be honest, while losing the FA Cup is certainly disappointing, it's not heartbreaking. It would have been nice to win, but it was clearly the third of three targets for Manchester United. Losing the Champions League, or losing the Premier League -- that would be devastating. So the treble is off, and losing in the FA Cup leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. I have a feeling, though, that today's bitter pill is going to make what comes next taste all the more sweet.
This is farlieonfootie for April 17.