Saturday, February 16, 2013

Curses and Grades (on Manchester United and Real Madrid)

photo by dingler1109via PhotoRee

Correpsondent Scott's fandom can be described in the same manner as his taste in beer: bitter.

So, there I was watching Real Madrid host Manchester United on Wednesday. Being a Real fan (and FOF being a United fan), I was looking forward to Los Blancos taking a couple goal advantage to Old Trafford for the second leg. Unfortunately, a funny little thing happened at the Bernabeu, kind of a Freaky Friday thing. You see, for 90 minutes it seemed that Real Madrid had morphed into Liverpool.  
They they were dominating possession, winning the ball back quickly (and high up the pitch), creating twice as many dangerous chances and, in every way, bossing the game and dictating the flow of play against an uncharacteristically ineffective United side which seemed content to pack it in and play counter attack. Then, just like the Liverpool Reds, with various opportunities gone begging, the Whites conceded on a set piece (corner) via a defensive lapse (the post was left unguarded). They did manage to draw after a Cristiano Ronaldo equalizer but this was one of those times when a tie was the same as a loss, especially given that the (Red) Devils now have an away goal. Images of Liverpool vs. Arsenal and Liverpool vs. Manchester City have plagued me ever since the final whistle, after which I pouted through a wife-forced watching of American Idol. I’m beginning to develop a complex – it seems my fandom is turning into the soccer equivalent of the Madden Curse or the Gillette Curse. I’m just crazy enough to not watch a couple of games to see if that helps. With my luck I’ll end up being the poster child for confirmation bias.  

But enough about my mental (in)stability - I can really relate to those Bud Light "It’s-only-weird-if-it-doesn’t-work" commercials (even if I loathe the beer involved). After all, it’s so much more fun to criticize others. Herewith, some grades:  

Real Madrid – B

They would have received an "A" if they had just managed another goal and won the game. They were brilliant from start to finish, apart from finishing (semantically ironic, I know) -- and the aforementioned defensive lapse, of course. Absolutely dominating the inevitable Premier League Champions, Madrid moved the ball effortlessly around the chasing men in red. Really, their only flaw was defensive communication (and set pieces, of course). But boy do they counter fast and furious (yes, grammar geeks [of which I am one], I realize adverbs are appropriate there – I was going for the alliterative allusion)! But I digress.... Mesut Ozil was a maestro in the midfield, Ronaldo was scintillating, Xabi Alonso was indefatigable and Di Maria peppered the goal as if it were steak au poivre. The bottom line is that the much better team on the day did not win.  

Manchester United – C  

The next Premier League champions looked out of their league, and more like a relegation team against their Spanish opposition. A couple of corners and counters are what passed for their offense as they chose to dig in deep in their own half for large stretches of the game. Running around chasing the white ghosts who seemed to vanish the ball just prior to each tackle, it was actually unsettling to see them so unsettled.  

Yes, there were a few dodgy moments for the home side when the Manchester Keystone cops managed to pick up their trousers, thanks to a certain Dutchman, long enough to actually stumble into the forward third with the ball, most notably during a period when more Real defensive miscommunication led to a series of dangerous United crosses. But those efforts ultimately came to naught and the last 10 minutes saw the visitors batten down the hatches for, and ultimately survive, an all-out onslaught by Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo – A

Wow! A certain expression comes to mind when reviewing the play of CR7 – “It ain’t braggin’ if you done done it.” The fact of the matter is, no matter your opinion of the Lamborghini-abandoning, self-described “good-looking, rich and great soccer player” as a person, there is no denying he is one of the best to ever play the game. His goal was lifted from a soccer textbook, such was his vertical leap, attacking header and the resulting ripple of side netting. That he managed a bit of class by not overly celebrating his goal against his former employer and mentor, took another chink out of my anti-Ronaldo-as-a-person campaign that began when he was terrorizing Liverpool. In any other time without Lionel Messi, he would be hands-down the best player in the world.

David De Gea – A  

The Madrid-born United portero single-handedly (and footedly, as it was) kept his team in the game. From his finger-tip, diving parry onto the post to his late-game high-kicking save on Fabio Coentrao’s sliding effort, the Red Devils’ number one was magnificent with his shot blocking. At 22 years of age, one can only guess at the heights to which he will rise, and the honors he will earn, in his career. Not perfect in every part of his game (covering crosses, for example), he was perfect enough (to bastardize the superlative) on the night to give his team an ill-earned and immensely valuable draw.

Gus Johnson – D

I feel like I’m piling on a bit here but it was bad. The only thing keeping his grade from an "F" was his enthusiasm. FOX will no doubt spin this somehow but he was just plain awful. The evidence:

- When will Americans learn not to say “Man yoo”?

- Called the second yellow card of the match the first yellow of the match. Maybe excusable except the first went to Robin Van Persie – something notable because of the recipient and it was a soft foul - and should have been remembered.

- “…heads it forward” was the call when a punt was flicked on. I don’t think I’m splitting hairs to point out that nobody who knows soccer would describe the play that way.

- “he just couldn’t control it” was the call to describe Ronaldo in front of goal when he was unable to get a first time shot off.

- “Van Persie breaking to the football”. Seriously?

- Described Ryan Giggs as the most decorated English player

We all make mistakes. But when you add the above to his glut of factoids that had nothing to do with the game and did nothing but distract, you have a very poor first performance for someone we are told will be here for the long term. Ugh.

Warren Barton – C+

Normally I like Barton’s commentary at half time and post match. His comments can be withering but they are honest and come from an ex-player who knows the game and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. My problem with him on Wednesday was his obvious bias toward the English team: it seemed as if every other comment had an Anglo slant. For example, when Phil Jones blatantly pushed Angel Di Maria in the box (Sorry FOF, it was a foul that should have been called – just like when Patrice Evra was brought down just outside the box later. That Michael Carrick might have gotten to the ball first anyway was debatable.), Barton described Jones as “easing him away” from the ball. It was only after several in-your-face replays that Barton finally changed his language to “push.” And, aside from the bias, which can be understandable, I suppose, I think Barton could have done more to help out his struggling, in-way-over-his-head colleague.

This is farlieonfootie for February 16.

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