Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Alex Ferguson Contributes To Manchester United's Downfall in Munich

Bayern Munich took partial revenge on Manchester United tonight by beating them 2-1 at the Allianz Arena in the Champions League after Ivica Olic scored a dramatic 93rd-minute winner.

However, although Bayern deserved their win, Alex Ferguson must hold his hand up and accept that he contributed greatly to his team's demise.

Just as Ferguson's substitutions turned that now famous game in 1999, his changes tonight were equally as poor, handing the impetus and control on midfield directly to Louis van Gaal's team.

Manchester United were given a dream start when Nani was brought down at the corner flag by the clumsy Demichelis, who had a nightmare first half.

The little Portuguese winger picked himself up off the ground to fire in a free kick that a completely unmarked Wayne Rooney met to volley home in the Bayern six-yard box after Demichelis had slipped and lost his footing.

Sixty-six seconds in and the procession that many believed would happen was well under way.

Something changed in United's setup though. The team began to defend very deeply, rendering much of its own penetrative forces useless, as the likes of Patrice Evra could not get out of his own half.

On the other side of the pitch, a terrified Gary Neville was brought face-to-face with one of the most frightening sights in football: Franck Ribery tearing down the wing at full pace.

The fact that Nani was operating in front of him on the right didn't help Neville's cause, after Ferguson decided to leave the much better and far more effective Antonio Valencia on the bench. Perhaps he was resting him for Sunday's crucial clash with Chelsea.

It was just one of the Scot's many questionable decisions that went wrong on the night.

As Bayern began to gain a stranglehold in midfield, Rooney became an isolated figure up front. Nani, Scholes, and Carrick became peripheral figures as Marc van Bommell orchestrated midfield beautifully.

The Dutch star may be coming to the end of his career, but he has a phenomenal football brain and always manages to be in the right place or pick the right pass. He possesses the strength and stamina to back it up.

With him providing the foundation, the likes of Ribery and Altintop were free to bomb forward and troubled a brilliant Edwin van der Sar on more than one occasion.

Sensing that this United team was not of '99 vintage, Bayern stepped up a couple of gears.

The game was in real danger of slipping away. Ferguson was forced to act—he brought off Park and Carrick for Berbatov and Valencia.

They were curious moves for a couple of reasons.

Playing with five in the middle, United's midfield were already being overrun, so the decision to bring on Berbatov and go 4-4-2 was strange to say the least.

While Park was having a quiet game, he was far better than Nani. By bringing Valencia on, he moved Nani out left and made three changes for the price of two, never a good move when you are under pressure.

By going 4-4-2, a legless Paul Scholes was left with a demoralised Fletcher in United's engine room. Bayern just steamrolled past them.

United's static midfield has caused them problems in every game, which has raised questions. Van Gaal deserves huge credit for exploiting them, when other managers are often afraid to take the initiative.

A far more sensible approach would have been to remove Neville for Rafael and replace Nani with Valencia.

United would have kept the same formation. But they would have replaced the wheelbarrow-slow Neville with a much younger model and replaced Nani for a much better player, who wouldn't be afraid to work either end of the field.

But with Ferguson's substitutions made, Bayern duly took over.

Seven minutes later, they scored the equalizer they deserved after Ribery's free kick was deflected past van der Sar and off Rooney.

In a cowardly move, the England striker turned his back on the ball as it left Ribery's boot.

It is a cardinal sin in football to turn your back on the ball, especially in a free kick. You just don't know where the ball is going to go. Nine times out of 10, the deflection gives the ball a dipped trajectory that 'keepers find impossible to judge.

Besides, when you're on as much as Rooney, taking a ball in the face is all part of the game.

The free kick was initially awarded after a punch-drunk Neville fisted the ball away from Ribery with the referee less than five yards away—incredibly poor defending by the player many feel is the best right full ever to play in England.

It was a night to forget for Neville and one that will linger long in both his and Ferguson's minds.

And one thing is for sure: Ronaldinho of AC Milan is no Ribery.

The goal spurred Bayern on even more as Die Roten went chasing a winner.

Staring defeat straight in the eye, Ferguson played the only card he had left and took Nani off for Ryan Giggs.

It was too little too late though. Ivica Olic stepped up in the 93rd minute to coolly slip the ball past van der Sar for a winner that will go a little way to eradicating the memory of 1999.

Olic pounced onto the ball after a schoolboy error by Patrice Evra, who could not control the ball. He took far too many touches with the striker in close attendance, the end result being Bayern's winner.

Insult was added to that injury-time winner when Rooney appeared to twist his ankle awkwardly. It would now appear that the United striker will miss Sunday's crucial Premier League clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Ferguson had spoken before the match of how he valued an away goal more than a clean sheet, and perhaps this mindset had seeped into the team.

The tie is delicately poised, but Bayern will be a far different animal in the return leg when Arjen Robben returns to the fold.

Rooney's season is now in the balance, and so is United's.