Friday, February 24, 2012

Second Gear: Manchester United 1 - Ajax 2

photo by doviendevia PhotoRee

Admittedly, not my best work, but then last night wasn't Manchester United's, either:

o Last night's 2-1 home loss to Ajax, which saw the Reds advance into the final 16 of the Europa League tournament, was shown on GOL TV in the US.  I wish GolTV's main football analysts, Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen, had the opportunity to call more games involving teams from the BPL. With Schoen playing the straight man to Hudson's lyrical mixture of melody, comedy and know-how, the two men combine to offer an insightful and entertaining brand of football commentary -- easy on the ears and informative, as well.

o I will say, though, that I disagreed with Hudson's assessment that Dimitar Berbatov was "missing in action" and "pretty woeful" last night. To the contrary, I thought The Berb was one of the most creative players on the pitch last night.

o Chicharito appears to be rounding back into form. The Little Pea may have begun the year slowly -- whether due to injury, weariness, or a combination of both -- but the Mexican striker was handed a rare start last night and found the net within the game's first six minutes.  If last night was a sign of things to come, the rest of the Premier League better start worrying right now: the kid's got an uncanny nose for goal.

o How do they allocate seats at old Trafford?  Who thought to put Harry Redknapp and Stuart Pearce virtually right next to each other, with Roberto Mancini on Redknapp's other shoulder?  I would have paid good money to hear the conversation in that section....

o Dimitar Berbatov is a sublime passer of the ball. He's also fairly unselfish for a proven goal scorer. I was mesmerized by some of the silky early through balls that Berbatov played for Chicharito to run onto.

o Some of United's early ball movement was phenomenal, and at times in the first half they looked much more like the team they were in the first couple games of the season than they did during the drab and dreary run of 1-nil wins that collected points in the table but earned the club no style points.

o I guess Sir Alex was less impressed, though, as he and Ryan Giggs looked slightly bored watching the first half from the sideline. If you'd told me they were watching paint dry I might have protested, and suggested they were watching grass grow, instead.

o The second half was a different story altogether.  The home side looked disjointed, uninterested, and unmotivated.  Shockingly, despite Sir Alex's pre-game warning to the contrary, and despite their prior experience against Basel at home during the Champions League -- in which the home team surrendered a 2-0 lead and gave up three straight goals -- the team looked complacent. 

o A good portion of the fault can be laid directly at the feet of the great man himself.  I don't think United can afford to start Phil Jones at center back in a game of any importance.  The kid just isn't ready.  And then surrounding Jones with Chris Smalling, Fabio and Rafael (the latter of whom played excellently, in my opinion) wouldn't have exactly bolstered David De Gea's confidence   

o Speaking of De Gea, it was another game, another crucial save for the Spaniard, a save that ended up keeping United alive in Europe.  Anyone paying attention...?

o As his scraggly beard begins to fill in a bit, he's looking more and more like the Notre Dame leprechaun mascot, especially when he's wearing the green goaltender's kit.

Notre Dame Mascot, or David De Gea?

o Once again, it was Paul Scholes who was brought on as a calming influence to settle the team down and bring back some needed rhythm to the offense.  I'm not so sure Scholesy grabbed the reins and immediately settled the horse last night, but he did do just enough to break up Ajax's ball domination and keep them from scoring until it was too late.  It's a good thing Scholes took the first half of the season off, because SIr Alex is heavily reliant on him right now.

o In the end, the boys in Red did just enough to advance last night, never really getting out of second gear, and content to cede the ball to the visitors for long portions of the evening.  While there were a few nervy moments late on -- especially after the referee allowed a late offside goal to stand -- and the home side suffered a rare European loss at Old Trafford (only their third there since 2001), it was the Reds who went through to the Europa League's next round.  It may not have been a moral victory -- the kind approved by Micah Richards and Vincent Kompany -- but at this point I'll take it.

This is farlieonfootie for february 24.

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