THERE are occasions when games of football that aren’t just games of football. It’s possible that this Saturday, Manchester United v Liverpool at Old Trafford, we may see one those occasions. It should be about Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, whether David De Gea will turn the big step forward he made at Stamford Bridge last weekend, into a leap. We should be wondering if Javier Hernandez has done enough to start the game and whether the latest flop striker in the Liverpool ranks will finally do something useful. We should be asking all these questions and rest assured while the Given to Score team are making their way up Sir Matt Busby Way, these issues will be somewhere in our minds but so will others; namely a massive big pink (although colour is of no importance) elephant; will this game will ALL about the previous few?
SO THIS is February, and what have we done? Losses to Newcastle and Liverpool, wins at City, Bolton, Arsenal and Stoke City, but that doesn’t tell half the story really. The results say one thing, the inquests into them and the events surrounding it all gave us a bit of a bonkers month.
WELL the season is a few games old now and we have that boring England stuff out of the way for a bit, here was the weekend for us to kick into gear. Old rivalries renewed, new striking options and you’d think that it was all there for us to kick on and get started. Of course, being Manchester United, it never works out the way you think it will.
Losing to our rivals is never good and the old line that I should throw out right now is that at least this defeat is early enough in the season for us to repair ourselves and make sure it doesn’t have any lasting effect on our season. It’s not as if this is Easter.
I don’t want to be writing about that. I don’t want to be making excuses like that to cover up the fact that against such an important team, on their own patch, our performance was poor and too many players didn’t turn up. Sometimes you have to write the obvious, and admit when it just wasn’t your day.
I don’t think Anderson made a decent pass all game, they seemed to all be short, roll out of play or be intercepted by the other side. It was not his day. Edwin, throw any old cliche you like at him – ‘bad day at the office’, he most certainly had a ‘mare but in my opinion his was only the most obvious of a day of bad performances. Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic, it was not your day.
I have been lucky enough to be at a few great European nights at Old Trafford, and last season’s trouncing of Roma will remain with me like it will everyone else whether they were in the stadium that night or not. It seems to be often the case that the most progress in this competition is made with performances a lot less spectacular than that.
That brings us nicely to Barcelona. The first leg at the Camp Nou was excruciating and I was only at home for that one, I said to myself then that it would be hell to be watching a game like this. To the untrained eye it looked like it was their attack against our defence, the more we repelled the more they came forward and the more Messi looked like he had applied glue to his boots before kick off.
Last week at Old Trafford the atmosphere was as loud as you would expect, the hairs on the hairs on the back of my neck were up and the Stone Roses have never sounded better, mostly because they had mixed in audio from commentary on that night against Bayern Munich. It was all there, the latest great European night since the last great European night.
That might be a line used more for the reds from Liverpool rather than ours, we’re always reminded that Liverpool are something special in this competition and lest we forget their participation in the self proclaimed greatest European final ever in Istanbul. Manchester United have their own memorable European nights yet they are restricted to a glorious quarter final or even beautiful disaster against Porto as they went on to create their own history. You have to hand it to us, when we have made it to the final we haven’t bothered with the losing much. Two finals in the European Cup is not good enough for our club but we have made history on both previous occasions. Drawing level in forty five minutes and winning on penalties, or two goals in two minutes to win the game and the historic treble… I know which one I prefer.
If we were going to extend our run in this season’s competition we would need world class performances from each of our players, and throat ripping support from the fans in the stadium, but for the moments before kick off I just sat there and looked straight ahead at the Stretford End. I listened to the commentary and remembering the memories. We were ninety minutes away from either success or another round of glorious failure, and there was a stadium full of fans that had had enough of brave defeat.
I don’t know if you actually enjoy a game like the one we saw on Tuesday, at least, I’m not sure I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the heroic performances of Rio Ferdinand and Wesley Brown, I enjoyed the fact that our boys turned up when they needed to. I was right behind Paul Scholes’ goal and saw every slight curve it made from his boot to just beyond the keeper’s fingers and the sound it made when it kissed the net. I certainly enjoyed that but we all knew that what would follow that goal would be minutes upon minutes of nerve wracking Barcelona pressure, and I hated every minute of that. I’m sure I’m missing out moments of United attack when we could have made the game safe, frankly they are secondary to the feelings I had watching Lionel Messi attack us and evade our defenders, that boy surely is a great player and I had every sympathy for Patrice Evra on that night.
He was one of ours that was singled out for having a less than brilliant game. If, on your worst game for the football club you are beaten all ends up by one of the greatest players in the world and still end up on the winning team, that is fine by me. Evra’s biggest crime being left for dead by Messi, but personal victories elsewhere made up for that.
Towards the end I really didn’t care who got the ball clear of our defence, only that they kept the ball as far away from the danger area as they could. I would like to sit here and write of how I knew that Barcelona were never going to make the breakthrough, that it just felt like our night. It didn’t. It was hell. It wasn’t like I doubted our boys and their ability to pass the defensive test, I just wanted there to be fewer questions in the exam because the more Barcelona asked, the greater the chance they would steal our glory and they only needed one right answer.
I completely lost my voice, I was screaming at everyone. I was praying to Eric and I was booing Thierry Henry just like everyone else was. I booed him even before he made it onto the pitch, because there was a moment when we cleared the ball out for a Barcelona throw and he was nice enough to be on the spot warming up, he instantly returned the ball to his colleague for the quickest throw in ever.
He has the rest of the season on the bench to sit and think about the difference he could have made to their game that night; he has all the time in the world to think about that header he sent straight to our ‘keeper. We have two weeks to think about what we achieved and how we achieved it, of course the achievement will mean more if we go all the way to Moscow and win that ruddy great big trophy.
You can keep your greatest games, much as it pains me you can have your Roma result back. Results like that are followed by many examples of close but no cigar. I loved that game and yet I can admit that it means less in context because we eventually missed out. Glorious games are great in isolation, more often than not success is made with results like Tuesday night.
I hated the game because I took every forward attack personally and watched the team give everything to the cause. The game was agony, the result was heaven. It is in the pure hell of the hardest fought one nil game, not the heaven of a dominating victory that you truly earn your rewards.
We can play better. We will play better but maybe that’s not the point. We have played better and we have still missed out. We didn’t miss out this time, we played the way we needed to and the way we were made to for a large part of the game and we got our reward.
Victory in Europe takes us to Moscow and that is where it all begins again. Manchester United, European Cup Finalists again. Now to clinch the Premiership.
OKAY so I think I remember how to do this, let me see… United face a tussle with Chelsea for the league title, a tussle that ultimately lies in our own hands. Our team have lost games when everyone predicted walkovers and they have won at a canter when everyone suspected the going might be difficult. Cristiano Ronaldo is best player in the Premiership and Europe, Arsene Wenger still has trouble seeing incidents involving his own team and dodgy decisions, and Manchester City are questioning the future of their manager. Pretty much summed it up?
Something’s never change.
I watch Manchester United in what I thought was an absolute ‘under the kosh’ game, and was quite ready to accept that on the face of it we were second best in every department at the Nou Camp. That was, until the television and print media called the performance one of defensive perfection and made us favourites for the return leg… (we’ll get to that). I like what they saw more so it was easy to change my opinion. On the face of the two legs our defence took on their attack over two legs and we scored more times than they did – more importantly we stopped them scoring.
Manchester United reach the European Cup Final in Moscow later this month, and Manchester City are allegedly about to sack their manager despite a successful season by their standards. The man that may be about to replace him is the same one that the FA wanted to replace him as England manager, Big Phil. Perhaps the owners at Manchester City are on to something and they are geniuses in believing this man to be the future. Perhaps those men are on a higher level and Manchester City are about to become a world power.
Perhaps the board of Manchester City Football Club and the Football Association suits are on the same level, and it isn’t a high one. Appoint a man, lose faith, sack him, chase Luiz Felipe Scolari. If they are to follow the FA mode of employment they will talk to the man, who then refuses to take the job because of the pressure and press intrusion. When he turns you down, hurry through the airport on your return to the office and tell the world you didn’t want him anyway?
If he wants a different managerial atmosphere to the one he rejected with England, Manchester City is certainly that.
Some things never change.
Manchester United could have made the title tilt a lot simpler these past few months, but that just isn’t our way now is it. Never has been. So instead we gloriously steal a draw at Ewood and lose the battle of Stamford Bridge and still it has never really been what you would call out of our hands.
Level on points, West Ham stood in Manchester United’s way on route to reclaiming our trophy.
Some thing’s never change.
Ronaldinho is no longer the big thing in European football, there are to be no more ‘great European nights for Liverpool FC’ this season, Wesley Brown has realised he is playing for the best club in the world and has signed the contract, the league leaders have won very important games without Wayne Rooney (not to mention Vida),,,
AND Given to Score will have hopefully relocated from Merseyside to Greater Mancunia in time for the next football season.
Some things do change.
Let us feast on the last month of the season; there will be much to come of that I am sure.
THERE is a chance that I’m geared up! It could well be the thumping tones of “2×4” by Metallica currently filling GTS HQ, it could be the fact that we haven’t written for an absolute age – mostly I think it’s the fact that Manchester United play Liverpool this weekend.
I have heard nothing but gloating from my Liverpool friends, about how this is their season and how finally they aren’t taking their eyes off the ball. Of course a great deal of that came before they were put to the sword by Reading. Despite what the red side of Merseyside may say, their season has been up and down at best. They have at times done the job, and Torres has looked like the decent player I hoped he wouldn’t be when he joined. Liverpool have also managed to mess up as well, in Europe as well as maintaining their usual inconsistent domestic form. Add to that the fact that their manager has at times been showing the strain in press conferences and the American owners that have shown they are far from happy, and it looks like a good time to be going to Anfield.
That’s exactly why it isn’t. United are playing well, the early season patchy form has given way to something that looks more like the machine we’re used to. Rooney and Tevez are gelling, and all is ticking along nicely (let’s not mention the fact that if you believe the stories we have yet another defender in a contract debate). When everyone seems to be looking in United’s direction for victory, it never works out that way.
Rumours of splits and all of the negative news seemingly coming from those at Anfield, may well have a positive effect on the Liverpool team. Despite doing nothing in the league since Noah built the ark and putting all his eggs in the European basket Benitez commands the respect of the Liverpool fan base, so much so a friend of mine told me his Anfield season ticket would be returned if Rafa the Gaffer got the sack-a.
For that reason and that reason only I say faster red devils, kill kill!
For ninety minutes it will be all out war and it should be. It’s the same three points at stake and I dare say it is too early to count in the story of the league – it’s not even really about local pride because they are hardly next door neighbours.
Liverpool v Manchester United is about shutting the scousers up, silencing the Kop, celebrating each tackle on one of theirs a little more than usual. It’s about everything that everyone reading this thinks it is, the history and the now. It’s about Wayne Rooney getting booed for each and every minute except the one where he sticks that ball in their net, its about Ronaldo and whether he escapes the attentions of their back four and it’s about which Torres turns up for the game.
Other games can be about more sensible things, this one can just be about beating Liverpool because we don’t like each other. Vidic and Ferdinand v Crouch and Torres is nice scenery for the neutrals and ‘Nice Guy’ Jamie on the TV but this game can be more basic than that – win, leave Anfield with victory and enjoy the silence from the Kop!
WELL folks we really know that football is well and truly back now.
Chelsea benefit from a dodgy refereeing decision thanks to a penalty wrongly awarded in their match – some things never change. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is in the news claiming that there is a conspiracy to keep his team from being successful. Some things never change. Manchester United, Champions of England, sit in the bottom half of the league. Okay, now that’s a new one.