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How I still remeber those days when Ryan Giggs was linked with a move to Inter Milan. They pursued him for a considerable amount of time around the 2000-01 season and couldn’t get their hands on Stretford ends’ most priced asset. How Mourinho would have liked former Inter manager Hector Cuper to have tied up this football machine? The true repercussions of that failed foray should have been felt across the whole of Italy particularly in the blue half of Milan.

There was an air of inevitability around Old Trafford today when Mourinho marched on to the technical area before the game kicked off. Underneath the raucous surface, there were a few jangling nerves about what the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ had in store tactically for this round of 16 champions league tie. Vidic proved why he has been likened to Steve Bruce by United fans by scoring a terrific headed goal although I couldn’t figure out what Viera was doing during the setpiece.

United started with a weird formation; 4-4-2. Now that sounds a bit awful because that has become the most potent and loved formations of Sir Alex. But against a side managed by Mourinho who has always showed an inclination to play a 4-3-2-1, this seemed like a naive tactical option.

In the Milan derby, Inter absorbed most of the pressure and never had much possesion but still managed to score a couple of goals playing a 4-3-1-2. Adriano and Ibra up front and Stankovic behind them and the midfield trio providing great buffer for the backline. This tactical ploy was lethal. Although Milan did all the running, Inter scored two very simple goals; first by Adriano from a cross from Maicon and the second from a terrific strike by Stankovic from a flicked header by Ibra from a long ball played to him.

After conceding the opener, Inter grew into the game courtesy of the central midfield pairing of Carrick and Scholes. The central midfield pairing struggled to keep the ball and spray it around because they were chasing shadows most of the time although match stats say otherwise. Carrick requires someone with pace to help him out in the central area and Scholes, for a long time, had the mother of all shockers. He gave away the ball so many times and his usual cross field balls were not accurate. For all that United have been all season, keeping the ball and wearing down the opponents, this was as much bad because they were at the receiving end today from Inter. Berbatov was deployed between Rooney and the midfield couldn’t see much of the ball because he was closely marked by Cambiasso and Zanetti who really stayed close to each other positionally. United bring the ball out of defense by playing Berbatov in the hole.

Although Viera was anonymous in the first half, his positional presence proved a kind of a hindrance to United who couldn’t put 5 passes together. Giggs managed to get behind Maicon once during the first 20 minutes and that was it from United after they had broken through Inter’s defense with a setpiece. Some semblence of sanity was restored to United’s shape once Sir Alex moved Giggs into the hole and Berbatov up top and Rooney to the left hand side. Maicon’s runs became less ominous and Giggs’ intelligence helped out the United midfield duo to supply the ball to Ronaldo on the right flnak. One can say this was a damning verdict on Berbatov’s performance, but the truth is far from that. Giggs’ ability to run at defenders with the ball at his feet in the central midfield area proved to be the difference because Cambiasso and Zanetti couldn’t live with him. Giggs was particularly running circles around Cambiasso who was Inter’s most important player because of his vision, technical ability and desire.

Mourinho tried to improve things by introducing Muntari for Viera but this didn’t have the desired effect. Giggs was running the show for United and the midfield trio of Cambiasso, Zanetti and Muntari had to tuck in to make it more hard for United to keep possession. Inter’s tactical plans had been dashed after United scored their second and now Inter had to chase the game more. From 4-1-4-1 (till 50′), Mourinho switched to a 4-3-3 by replacing Stankovic with Adriano. Now United started finding more spaces opening up in the midfield area and Carrick became slightly more aseertive. By this time Ronaldo also had been given the free role along with Giggs which helped to counterintelligently (although the shape was considerably sacrificed).

But for Giggs’ ability to run at pace with the ball and his masterful artistry of running circles around Cambiasso, United would have crumbled and conceded at least two goals which might have seen Inter go through. Some might have noted that Giggs’ attemped backhell led upto the setpiece that saw Ibrahimovic hit the bar. This was his only blemish in the game which saw him shine unlike his colleague for so many years, Paul Scholes who didn’t have one of his best games. I would go on to defend Scholes because this is not the type of game that he would want to play. For a game where the midfielders had to dig in and fight for every ball rather than blitz the park with audacious croos field passes and sublime chips, this was not the game to play Scholes at his age.

And finally, Rooney’s committment and tactical awareness and intelligence was excellent. United  without a verstile player like him, would have suffered dearly today. A self less servant who is maturing as a wonderful player with every game he is playing although he was close to being insipid in the first half with his passing and movement.

The draw for the quarterfinals is on 20th March. How I would relish if the following had to happen:

Manchester United Bayern Munich

And I would want to know what you guys think of other possible match ups for the round of 8.

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7 Comments

  1. Giggs will again be the difference if ManU gets to meet Barca, don’t you think?

    And yes, Bayern – ManU.
    Would love that. High-scoring match, no doubt.

    At least that way, they’ll show the match on TV.
    I wouldn’t have to stay on youtube during the Bayern match wishing someone would upload a goal.

    • Barca-United is tough to call. If fergie decides to sit back and be conservative and let Barca have the ball, they will kill United off sooner or later. They cant play like last season and get through. Regarding Giggs’ role, its tough to say. His influence is not independent of formation that man united play. Because of his age, only certain formations suit him and when he plays in the hole, he can certainly make things happen.

      Teams like Atletico and Espanyol have showed that Barca are vulnerable at the back.

      And, the draw some say is going to be one of the best. I have to disagree. Its boring to see 4 english teams. I hope they dont get drawn against eachother. CL has sort of become predictable due to the absence of ‘dark horses’ like Monaco, porto or Leverkusen. I think we should be able to tell better who is going to play in the final after the draw is made.

        • Puvichakravarthy
        • Posted March 12, 2009 at 6:16 pm
        • Permalink

        Ya. Barca are vulnerable at the back. The key to them winning games(most of the time by huge margins)is solely due to the fact they have high posession%. Even during the opening games against Numancia and the draw against Racing, they were holding on to the balls far more than the opponents.

        But there is a slight change in starting line up recently. Previously Guardiola used to play Henry and Iniesta in shifts. Now that both of them have become regular in the teams with Iniesta pairing with Xavi and Toure. So, who do you feel fits the left forward role better? Henry or Iniesta?

  2. I like to see Barca play Liverpool again. Though both of them are my favorite teams, I’m curious to see how they play against Liverpool who completely outplayed Real.

  3. And for Arsenal , hope they should be praying for an easy opponents.

      • footballbloodyhell
      • Posted March 13, 2009 at 12:56 am
      • Permalink
      • Reply

      Puvi:

      It makes sense to play both Henry and Iniesta in a 4-1-2-3 system. The problem comes when one of those three midfielders is Gudjohnsen. Iniesta and Xavi play ahead of Toure. I dont see Guardiola relegating Henry to the bench. The front three, Xavi, Toure seem indispensable now. How he tweaks around the formation for different games is the issue. He might play Keita or Busquets with Toure instead of Iniesta or Gudjohnsen for more protection.

      But the issue even during the game against Lyon which Barca won, Marquez was appalling and they conceded two and thats their biggest worry. The away goals might be Barca undoing this year if they carry on defending like this and as you had mentioned, Valdes seems to give the impression that he is not too confident with his abilities.

    • Possibly too much experimenting at the back might prove costly. I think the absence of Abidal and re-shuffling the back four has proven costly. Instead of opting for Sylvinho, either Cacares or Puyol of the LB. This leaves a not so common center back pairing, astray.
      Now that guardiola knows this[2 defeats] it will be interesting how they come back and establish themselves.


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