Sunday, April 5, 2009

Anything Liverpool Can Do, Manchester United Can Do Better

17-year-old Federico Macheda scored a sensational injury-time goal on his debut to give all three points to Manchester United and return them to the summit of the Premier League.

As the game moved into its dying seconds, the teenager collected a pass from Michael Carrick and turned brilliantly before he dispatched the ball into the far post across the flailing arms of Brad Friedel, and gifted the Red Devils a win when a draw looked most likely.

Liverpool beat Fulham at Craven Cottage yesterday, thanks to a 92nd minute strike from Yossi Benayoun, which put the Anfield side on top of the table for 24 hours at least. Their manager, Rafael Benitez, said that all the pressure was now on United, they had to do something special to stop them from plummeting further from the nosedive they were in...

Being 2-1 down and with Aston Villa controlling the game against a depleted United side, Alex Ferguson played an ace as he brought on Macheda for the ineffectual Nani with 30 minutes to go.

The ex-Lazio wonderkid was snapped up as a mere 15-year-old by United for a small fee, but United had to wait until Federico turned 16, in August 2007, before they could officially sign him. As part of the deal, United moved the entire Macheda family to Manchester so they could support the youngster.

And it paid off, when he scored the goal, the teenage prodigy dived into the crowd to hug his father in a scene right out of Roy of the Rovers.

United had taken the lead through a fantastic Cristiano Ronaldo strike after James Milner passed the ball back to a rushing Friedel in the Villa box. The keeper had little choice but to catch the ball.

From the resulting indirect free kick, the ball was rolled to Ronaldo, who curled a fabulous shot around the wall, high into the top corner of the far post over the despairing 5'6" Nicky Shorey.

But with United playing a haphazardly assembled back four in the absence of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, where club captain Gary Neville partnered John O'Shea, mistakes were always going to be made.

O'Shea has been fantastic for club and country since Giovani Trappatoni took over the reigns for the Irish national team, and he seems to have installed an aggression into the Irishman that was previously missing.

With that being said, they were up against the giant of John Carew and the sheer pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor today, and both defenders struggled in the early stages.

Villa had a little and large combination up front, so United went like for like. However Agbonlahor's pace caused Neville all kinds of problems, and Carew's aggression and height gave O'Shea a severe test as well.

Gareth Barry was the best player on the pitch: in the first half his tackling and passing were crisp, and it was no surprise to see his lofted ball to Carew find the back of the net as Villa secured a deserved equalizer.

The problems were mounting for United at the back as Villa tore through them time and time again, so Ferguson had to act. A simple move that payed huge dividends. He swapped Evans for Neville, and all of a sudden Agbonlahor's impact began to lessen.

But not before he added the second.

Ronaldo was caught dawdling on the ball, and Villa worked it quickly to Carew, whose cross was headed in by an unmarked Agbonlahor to give Villa a deserved lead and United a mountain to climb.

Ferguson's response was immediate. This was a game that United could not afford to lose. Macheda came on for Nani, and United immediately gained the upper hand.

The young Italian, who scored a hat-trick for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's reserves recently, was sent on to cause problems, and his effect on the game came at once. Curtis Davies bundle him over in the box while United fans screamed for a penalty.

The game was slipping away, and Villa was beginning to gain a foothold again. Something special needed to happen, and it did. Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been kept quiet all afternoon, picked the ball up on the edge of the box and smashed home a left-footed shot into Friedel's bottom corner to set the Stretford End into a frenzy.

Villa were out on their feet, United kept coming. Friedel repelled shot after shot. Fletcher and Carrick pulled all the strings as they spread the play in search of that elusive winner.

And just like their title rivals from the previous 24 hours, they left it late to score the winning goal. Macheda collected the ball in the box, before turning magnificently and scoring the winner.

The celebration will go down as one of the moments of the season, regardless of who wins the league.

Pressure? What pressure?

twitter / WillieGannon