Archive for August, 2006
Three wins in a week is hardly cause for complaint. Top of the league, 10 goals scored and plenty of players still to come back from injury. However, it was a very nearly a different story altogether at Vicarage Road as United did their best to throw away the points and only just managed to scrape through unscathed.
You know what you are going to get with Watford; a physical team chasing down every ball and giving their all to salvage something from every game. Yet, after a reasonably early goal finished brilliantly by Silvestre, United seemed to take the points for granted. Sloppy at the back, failing to clear crosses properly, being beaten on the wings, losing most headers in the air and not controlling the midfield were just a selection of United’s issues over the 90 minutes. This was a shoddy performance in which United just hung on having thrown awa a lead once and almost doing so twice. Watford were not even happy with their own performance; had they not had an off day too this could have been embarrassing.
United’s fans did a better job than the team. Off the pitch the away contingent was in fine voice, continuing to support the dazzling Ronaldo each time he touched the ball. Of course the home fans booed and jeered (well, until they got bored and stopped) but the Reds sang for him and he waved back in response. Watford’s fans, seemingly conditioned by too many years in the Nationwide leagues, sang their ‘yellow army’ song clapping and banging a drum; should they go down they will fit right back in. You can take the fans out of the Nationwide but you cannot take the Nationwide out of the fans.
Despite the moaning and whinging by most Reds in the away end, this was still 3 points. The key to successful teams is to play badly and still win, something Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have already all failed to do in the opening week. However, there were some causes for concern that will need to be addressed. Despite the energy and commitment of Giggs, Saha and Ronaldo this was just not good enough. There are now 2 weeks in which players can take a look in the mirror before a tougher game against Spurs.
This game was always going to be about two things. Firstly, how United would cope with Rooney following his nonsensical ban and, secondly, how Ronaldo would react to a hostile crowd. Well, United battered a sorry Charlton off the pitch with Ronaldo as man of the match. A few critics were silenced, as were the boo boys who got bored of it by the second half, and the red army marches on.
I have to admit to being worried about this fixture. The central midfield combination of Fletcher and O’Shea will hardly send shockwaves through the Premiership and, with Park looking jaded and far from his best, it meant one wing and the centre were not even options for attacking. After 15 minutes it seemed Charlton just had to mark Giggs, Saha and Ronaldo out to keep, at the worst, a stalemate.
However, Ronaldo and Giggs had other ideas. They tore Charlton to shreds despite the goal-less first half, with the post being hit twice. Giggs took a sensational freekick that bounced back across the goal whilst Ronaldo’s audacious shot smacked the crossbar with the keeper well beaten. Despite a great end to the half concern was growing that the deadlock had not been broken. Without Rooney and Scholes could we get in front and take full points, especially as Chelsea had the lead at the Riverside.
Off the pitch United’s fans were in full voice. Ronaldo attracted the most support, with every touch greeted with cheers to tackle the pathetic booing from the home stands. The usual songs were also aired at the first away of the season for most. “Portugal, Portugal” chants annoyed the South Londoners, but egged on Ronny who waved and clapped in response whilst turning on the style.
It did not take too long for United to take the lead. United were driving towards the aways fans and camping in the Charlton half. Most of us were stunned when a defensive error allowed the ball to drop to Darren Fletcher who twisted a defender inside out and smashed home. A well deserved lead for United and an unlikely hero in Darren Fletcher, who suddenly seemed inspired and had a fantastic second half.
United of old, namely last season, had problems killing games off. That was not be this time as, despite missing a hatful of chances and putting us all through periods of worry, the second goal did at last come. Louis Saha turned wonderfully and smashed home from the edge of the area to seal the points and help my fantasy football team!
Charlton were buried, but four more events were to go in United’s favour. Firstly, Ole Solskjaer coming on, which always leads to a wonderful ovation. Secondly, the league debut for Michael Carrick who, within minutes, contributed to the best passing move of the game. Thirdly, Ole scoring in front of the United fans and bowing towards us. Many thought he would not play again, let alone score in the Premiership. Lastly, the score from the Riverside creeping through which put a perfect cap on things.
The team looked good, Ronaldo thrived on abuse from home supporters, goals are hitting the net without reliance on Rooney, the away support was in full voice, and Ole managed to score in front of us to cap a perfect night. Things seem very different from 180 minutes of football ago.
And so the long summer of dull football was finally over. United finally back playing competitive football and a horrid period of internationals and friendlies was finally in the past. The new Old Trafford was open, 7000 more silent fans were packed in, and everything else carried on as before.
However, this was different to most other seasons. For the first time in many many years there was a real air of gloom and doom amongst Reds. Last season we felt we would challenge Chelsea, this season a lack of signings and general dissatisfaction meant a lack of hope. What a difference 90 minutes makes then.
United in the post-Ruud era seem to play a new style of fast flowing, attacking and wonderful football. This is not to say Ruud going is a good thing, Afterall if the goals dry up or we get an injury upfront, the decision will quickly look bad. However, based on this performance, United looked like the team of 1994, bombing down the wings and creating chances for fun.
It only took 20 minutes following the ref’s whistle for United to bag four goals. Saha, Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs and Scholes were wonderful together. Whatever rifts and fall-outs were rumoured in the press seemed to be nonsense, as Rooney and Ronaldo hugged after the fourth goal. Genuinely.
The game was effectively dead before most had settled down. Fulham, a poor team who will be in big trouble this season, got a goal back with a luck deflection but there was never really a contest. United added a fifth in a slow second half in which Ronaldo continued to dazzle and shine. The summer’s shenanigans may turn Ronaldo into a truly world class player and all of a sudden there is a reason to look forward to the next 37 league games.
90 minutes can be a long time in football. This game certainly raised a few eyebrows, made us proud and returned the style of football to Old Trafford that it craves. Unfortunately a lack of depth in the squad may mean financial issues cloud what is a great team, but not a great squad. For the moment though, time to be happy and hope the form continues.
The Premiership and Champions League may seem a long way off with the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona hanging around but United have netted a trophy already this season so it is not all bad! Whilst this means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, it is always good fun for the players and fans to lift silverware (albeit plastic) in the sunshine.
After a day of tourist activity, boat cruises, sex museums and walks in the red light district we headed back to the stadium again on Saturday night making the same journey as the previous day. This time the train was busier, full of Ajax fans hoping to do over the English big boys. The stadium was packed out unlike the Friday and we got to watch the end of a great game in which Inter beat Porto 3-2 before United came on. That result meant United needed a win or a goal scoring draw to lift the trophy. United could even afford to lose if they scores twice as the point for each goal would be enough to seal top spot in the mini table.
United’s team looked especially lightweight. Rossi was up front alone and the responsibility all seemed to lie on Ryan Giggs’ head, who was supposed to be captain, support Rossi and control the midfield all at once, whilst being on hand to give advice to the younger players too. Giggs came through too; creating and assisting every chance that came United’s way through the game and, eventually, scoring the winning goal. There is little doubt that United could have been beaten fairly heavily without his presence, despite the final score. An injury early on to Carrick was worrying and added to the team’s lack of experience.
This was a thrilling context in which United’s kids looked more than comfortable at the back, but failed to create up front. All United’s chances came from Giggs set pieces, whether they be freekicks hitting the bar or corners floating perfectly across the area. It was fitting that it was he who scored the winner with a beautifully hit free kick, after Ajax had seen a penalty saved by Edwin Van der Saar and Rossi had been hacked down clean through later on.
United won the match, lifted the meaningless trophy, then left the field leaving Reds to pour back to the city centre. Another night of fun lay ahead.
All in all this was a good warm up tournament for United and the play was great at times. However, injuries to Ferdinand, Carrick and O’Shea plus the two red cards made it an expensive trip too. We have to wait to see what Rooney’s and Scholes’ punishments are but no doubt, being United, it will be 3 match bans all round.
The announcement that United were playing in Amsterdam preseason was surely greeted by more excitement from fans than players. Legal and cheap booze, whores and drugs seemed to be the tone for many of the travelling contingent, judging by the state of half the crowd at the stadium and after the game in town anyway. The players, stuck in their hotel with nowhere to go and nothing to do, must have wished they were not back in training yet, especially with chants of ‘we’re going out on the town with Rooney’ came from the top corner of the Amsterdam arena.
This was undoubtedly a good trip for all Reds to go; a great city, wonderful stadium, perfect weather and finally an end to World Cup fever. We arrived in Dam late Friday morning and spent the day relaxing and exploring before heading off to the ground. It is amazing how well other cities can organise transport and logistics compared to us. We arrived at the stadium in no time and lingered around for a while before heading up the ridiculously long staircase to the away section. Surrounded by netting and glass visors between us and the pitch, it somehow did not have too much of a friendly feel. The players were greeted with a cheer as they warmed up and the drunken Reds stumbled into the seats as kick off approached. As we were playing Porto most of the locals seemed to give this one a miss and the stadium was pretty empty as we scored twice early on. Scholes looked back to his best as he controlled the game and smashed home from outside the area to open United’s account for the tournament. Soon after Rooney pounced on a loose ball and chipped over the keeper. Game over it seemed.
However, United never seem to make it easy for themselves and big players always seem to attract controversy. Rooney was sent off, again against Portuguese opposition, which must have please the headline writers no end. Soon after Scholes was off too and Porto swarmed the United goal. Wonderful saves from both Van der Saar and Ben Foster kept the score safe but it seemed inevitable that the lead would be cut shortly. However, hero Ole had other ideas. Stranded up front by himself he was not getting the ball and had 3 men marking him. He drifted wide, picked up a long ball on the wing, ran inside all alone and hit the back of the net. Stunning composure and ability. For any Red to see Ole score is a wonderful occasion, and the away end celebrated the scorer more than the goal. Porto’s consolation goal and subsequent efforts seemed irrelevant.
The final whistle sounded and 9 men United had won the match, netting 3 goals which all gave them extra points in the strangely formatted tournament aimed at encouraging open and attacking play. Few Reds wanted to stay and watch Ajax v Inter Milan, especially when the red lights of Amsterdam were waiting a few miles away. So out on the town we went, following a sing song on the metro back to town which was packed with Reds. The rest of the night proved good fun for us and many other United supporters.