Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Alex Ferguson's Rooney Gamble Backfires As Bayern Munich Beat Manchester United in Champions League Quarter Finals

Alex Ferguson gambled on Manchester United's season by picking an unfit Wayne Rooney against Bayern Munich, and like all poor bets, it did not come off as his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Louis van Gaal's team. Bayern fought back from 3-0 down to 3-2, putting them through on the away goals rule after the tie had finished at 4-4.

Before the match all the talk was of whether Wayne Rooney would even make the bench. As it was the English international was parachuted into the team in place of the lacklustre Dimitar Berbatov, as Ferguson sent the strongest message possible that he had conceded the English Premier League title to Chelsea and that he had completely lost faith in his Bulgarian striker.

By playing an obviously unfit Rooney, Ferguson gambled that the striker would have enough ammunition to see his team through to the Champions League Semi-Finals with Lyon who beat Bourdeaux 3-2 on aggregate.

It also means that the striker is highly unlikely to be fit enough to play against Blackburn in Ewood Park on Sunday, and knowing his star player was going to miss the next league game it means that Ferguson has pretty much conceded the title to Chelsea as he has no one to replace Rooney's goalscoring feats.

Alex Ferguson rarely gets his team as wrong as he has done so in Manchester United's last two games, two losses to Bayern Munich and Chelsea. Fans of the club had hoped that he was going to pull it out of the bag and send out a team that were going to steamroll Bayern and get their floundering season back on track.

His starting XI for tonights match was highly questionable to say the least.

Rafael came in for Gary Neville which was understandable given the veterans abysmal displays in United's last two games. A half fit Rooney was considered better than a fully fit Berbatov, while the strangest decision of all was Darron Gibson starting in central midfield beside the static Fletcher and Carrick.

With those three in the Red Devils engine room United were always going to find it hard to keep and gain possession of the ball.

Gibson, the young Irish international is an extremely limited footballer. He is quite slow, is not a great passer of the ball, lacks creativity, and finds it hard to close down the opposition. Saying that, he does possess an absolute rocket in his right foot and it was his calm finish in the third minute that put United into the driving seat.

Valencia's quick break from midfield and his ball into the centre found it's way to Rooney who teed it up for Gibson on the edge of the box. His side footed finish found it's way into the bottom corner and United were in front 1-0 on the night.

Four minutes later and Luis Nani put United 2-0 up as the Red Devils threatened to run riot in the first ten minutes. Bayern Munich looked shell-shocked but their experience gave them a foothold in the match as the half wore on.

Valencia again the provider as his whipped cross was met perfectly by the little Portuguese who backflicked the ball expertly into the far post. Nani making up for his poor performance in Munich last week.

The subtlest of changes happened to the tide of the game in the 24th minute as Rafael flicked out a boot to catch Mark van Bommel after the Dutchman had fouled him. A yellow card was the reward for the most selfish and impudent of actions by the young Brazilian.

One minute later and Wayne Rooney showed the first signs of how unfit he actually was as he started hobbling.

As the half wore on United began to tire from the exertions of applying so much pressure and Bayern eked out their first real chance as Edwin van der Sar saved brilliantly and bravely at Muller's feet.

From the clearance United managed to gain possession as Rafael threw the ball to Valencia. The muscular winger easily fought off the attentions of the fantastically named Budstuber and his perfect cross was met by Nani who fired home his second and United's third.

A sea of red scarves melted in with yellow and green as United's fans tore the roof off Old Trafford. At 3-0 up the Red Devils were as good as through, and it would take United to take their foot off the pedal, combine it with good luck for Bayern, bad decisions by the referee, and world class finishing to deny them on this European night...

Less than one minute later and Michael Carrick served up the first part by completely switching off and allowing the workaholic Ivica Olic through. His finish from the tightest of angles giving Bayern the slimmest of hopes as the two teams went in for half time.

That glimmer became a beacon on 50 when Rafael fouled Franck Ribery to earn himself a second yellow card and a sending off. In previous times the referee might have been allowed to use common sense and just award the free-kick with a warning for the young Brazilian, but the letter of the law decrees that the offence carries a card, and the devastated youngster, who was always a liability, walked off the pitch morosely.

United re-jigged, Rooney came off, Nani went up front by himself, John O'Shea came on at right full, and Berbatov stayed on the bench...

It was the bitterest of blows to lose Rooney with an aggravation of his injury, and it will be in the lap of the Gods to see how quickly he returns. Without him, Manchester United are simply not the same team.

All Bayern needed was one more goal. The wind was in their sails, they were up against a United team who had stopped playing completely and their midfield was non-existant. Surely a goal was only a matter of time in coming?

Sensing they were trapped, United sat back and allowed Bayern to come onto them. Only using the outball provided by Nani with rare occasion.

Ribery and Gomez both went close as van der Sar and the crossbar saved United in quick succession. By this stage Manchester United were beaten in everything but the scoreline.

Players like Carrick, Gibson, Nani, and Valencia were little more than spectators as Bayern's greater desire and mobility took over. The goal they deserved and craved came from the boot of the imperious Arjen Robben with 15 minutes to go.

A deep corner by Ribery was met by an unmarked Robben on the edge of the box, he positioned himself perfectly and met the volley with perfection and crispness, and the ball found it's way into the bottom corner of the far post with van der Sar rooted to the spot. There is not a 'keeper in the world that would have been capable of saving the shot.

With the scores at 3-2 on the night, 4-4 on aggregate, Bayern Munich were through on the away goals rule. Ferguson had one last throw of the dice and turned to the player he had snubbed to save his season. Dimitar Berbatov.

It is hardly surprising to see that the Bulgarian's influence was negligible after Ferguson's message without words.

In the end Bayern closed out the game in the kind of professional manner that United should have shown at 3-0 up. It leaves us with a Champions League semi final bereft of English talent for the first time since 2003.

It is a sad night for fans of English football and more importantly, fans of Manchester United.

United were incredibly poor in the final against Barcelona last year and needed to rebuild their team in almost every position.

Carlos Tevez, enjoying life at Manchester City, was allowed to leave while Dimitar Berbatov was kept at the club. Tonight Ferguson all but admitted that he let the wrong player leave.

For some time now Manchester United's midfield have been in decline. The incredibly important central berth is populated by players who are either too old or too static to influence matches of the highest calibre. Tonight they were found out yet again.

Nemanja Vidic obviously wants to leave the club, Ferdinand and Neville have aged terribly this season, and van der Sar, who has been brilliant all year, is old and needs to be replaced.

In short Manchester United are in trouble. Given their financial predicament and the imminent rise of Manchester City, it might be no exaggeration to see United relapse into previous malady and go some years without another trophy.

The warning signs are there for all to see and while the Red Devils still have a chance at winning the league this year, the malaise needs to be repaired and the only thing that will do that is a cold hard cash injection.