A controlled performance at Stadio Olimpico and another European class act at Old Trafford secured passage to the Champions League semi-finals for Manchester United for a second year in a row. Roma go home humbled (and tired of playing United) but while they actually showed up this time around at Old Trafford, so did United’s injury-struck squad.
In a nutshell, you’d be hard-pressed to find flaws in tonight’s performance. The back five had a good game, Giggs played well, Tevez toiled manfully as only an Argentine hobbit could, the Energizer bunny ran up and down the pitch and if nothing else, made a right nuisance of himself, the German-Canadian Englishman was the most creative player on the pitch, bursting into the box and bombing crosses from the right flank alternatively, Carrick held his own for most of the game and even Anderson turned in an improved performance from his headless chicken routine of last week.
Sure, United lack a center-forward. Sure, the fullbacks stayed back more than necessary. And sure, O’Shea will never be a midfielder (nor will Gary Neville). But the United team that turned out today were too good for the Romans, debatable penalty call or not.
A quick run-down of the main points of the game:
It was great to see Roma have a go at United after the first 15 minutes – made the match interesting to watch although you wouldn’t expect anything less from them. They’ve matured from last year and hopefully next year we’ll stay clear of them till the final 🙂
Rio Ferdinand was a rock. The guy is clearly unfit and ended the first half hobbling and bent over gasping for breath, but he came out again in the second half and led the United defence with his customary intelligent positioning and command of the back four.
Silvestre had a surprisingly solid game. It’s good to see some backup for Patrice Evra, someone better than O’Shea in that position.
Pique got a full game, which is good. He looks solid enough to start against Arsenal on Sunday, which he fully deserves.
Hargo reached a new level for United in this game. He was the man of the match, hands down. He needs to practice his finishing though, but then again so does the Korean Energizer Bunny.
Neville returned to the pitch after 13 months out, taking the captain’s armband and stationed in front of the back four alongside O’Shea (yea, we played 4-6 for the last 10 minutes). Good to see him get some minutes, and he’ll definitely get more time before the end of the season.
And now, that penalty. I’ve seen different replays dozens of times and I can’t be 100% sure whether Brown got the ball first or he got the foot first which pushed the ball away. What is obvious to see is the way Mancini milked that challenge, but that’s him playing for the penalty so no problems with that. De Rossi missing it makes it a bit of a moot point, but if slow-mos from the front angle can’t tell us for sure if it was a penalty or not, the ref should have taken Mancini’s reactions into account.
Would Mancini have fallen over if he didn’t take a swan dive? I’ve seen forwards stay up, so to me it was Mancini just playing for the pen and since I can’t be 100% sure whether Brown got the foot or the ball first, can’t say anything about it either way.
Those penalties have been given before, so it’s not so much a matter of consistency, just that there is possible doubt and the ref didn’t take that doubt into account perhaps. It’s one of those things that the ref just decided on and I’m glad that it didn’t count because it would have made things very difficult.
On to Barcelona then. That should be good.
First Leg: Roma 0-2 Manchester United – Rooney and Ronaldo power United to victory
Before this game (and indeed, before any away game Manchester United have played in the last couple of seasons) the media trotted out figures to suggest that United were abysmal away in Europe – and few United fans would have argued against it after 4 away defeats last season (Celtic, Copenhagen, Roma and Milan) in the Champions League.
Still, United’s home record (on the verge of setting a new European record of 11 straight home wins if they beat Roma next Wednesday) stands up to any other team’s record and there was a certain anticipation to this tie – which side had learned their lessons better from last year?
Apparently it was just one player – Cristiano Ronaldo – whose improvement in the face of adversity and an otherwise average game (by his standards) put Manchester United ahead in the first half and after that as long as United kept 11 men on the pitch there wasn’t much danger of losing the game.
For the full match report, a discussion of SAF’s European tactics and a detailed review of the team’s performance, see this report on Red Rants. For the Italian perspective, read Marco’s report up on mCalcio.
Catch match highlights here.