Some time ago now, I compiled a scout report on all of Barcelona’s potential quarter-final opponents. It was well received, and now we know our opponent in the final, I figured it’s time to take an in-depth look at Manchester United. This is the first in a two-part scout report.
Route to the Final:
As I said in the first scout report, Manchester United are always among the favourites, no matter which competition it may be. This Champions League has been no different. Third favourites at the group stage – behind Barcelona and Real Madrid – they have lived up to that expectation, despite claims that this may be the worst Manchester United in recent memory.
More on that later.
The group stage draw was fairly kind to the Red Devils, as they were drawn alongside Valencia, Celtic and new-comers Bursaspor. Did they qualify first? Of course. But did they impress? Not in my eyes.
My beloved media tried to hide it, but this was not a vintage performance from Manchester United in the group stages, the fact that they only scored seven goals in the six games is testament to that. Though, as anyone who follows the NBA as well as the EPL will know, Manchester United are a "playoff" team. They perform when it matters.
Although, it can be argued that they haven’t.
The round of 16 also passed without an impressive United performance, but you can also argue that a truly great side is the team that wins, without playing it’s best football. Then, the quarter-finals. It was billed as the "Battle of England", and many said that Chelsea were "out" of the title race, so would compensate by progressing over this unimpressive Manchester United side.
Wrong on both counts. Fast forward to the present day, and United may be in the final, but Chelsea are only 3 points behind Ferguson’s side, and they will collide on Sunday, in the game sure to decide the Premier League.
The matches themselves were typically cagey affairs, and United only progressed thanks to the performances by 37-year old Ryan Giggs. The evergreen Giggs provided all 3 assists over the tie, but still, Manchester United had not shown their top form.
Maybe the semi-finals would be different, but having watched both matches, I am still undecided. Sure, they made easy work of Schalke, but how much of that is down to Schalke’s ineptitude at the top echelon?
Manuel Neuer was fantastic in the first leg, but was equally to blame for Schalke’s demise, as he could be accused of being at fault for a number of the goals. Manchester United were in the final; though, compared to Barcelona’s triumph against the physical, and mental tirade that Jose Mourinho subjected them to, it didn’t seem to fit the situation.
Barca had to fight tooth and nail for their place, against the highest of opponents; United just had to turn up.
I may have said that Manchester United haven’t hit top form yet this season, but maybe it just appears that way, and the average performances are in fact their real top form?
I’ll leave that decision up to you.
At the quarter-final stage, I said Nani was the best player currently playing for Manchester United. Nothing since has made me think any differently. So much hype surrounds Javier Hernandez, but look at his performance in the big games. Not only has he not been selected for most of them, but when he has, his performance level drops. He is United’s top scorer in the Champions League. He is their second top scorer in the league – behind Dimitar Berbatov – but those performances in the most important games have been lacking.
Chicharito has not scored against Manchester City in the Mancunian derby, neither has he scored versus London sides Arsenal or Tottenham. He has scored once against Liverpool, but it was a mere consolation in a 3-1 defeat.
What really stood out was his performance in the recent defeat to Arsenal. United headed into the game with a chance to virtually secure the league title. They were looking to their best players for a match-winning, hell, title-winning performance. Hernandez was given the nod, but was anonymous.
I watched as Arsenal, to be frank, they looked like Barcelona at times. They had United penned in their own half, and at times, their own box. The passing was slick, the movement even better, all against a full-strength (bar Rafael) Manchester United side. When United got the ball, they tried to launch it forward, looking for one of their two attackers to hold it up, if only to stop the onslaught.
Could Hernandez do it? No. on the big stage, he froze, and don’t tell me that it’s because of his height, as the "Little Pea" has scored a fair few goals with his head.
Well, he is even worse. The man is revered again by the media after his attempt to leave in the latter stage of 2010, where the very same media labelled him "greedy" and most importantly "over-rated". This was after the World Cup, where he was disappointing and downright disrespectful with his astonishing quip at the English fans.
Personally, I hate the man, but while my hatred for Ronaldo doesn’t take away from his undoubted ability, it’s hard to say the same about Rooney. Rooney has talent, sure, but is he in the top 5 players in the world? Is he even in the top 25? No, and anyone who disagrees should tell me, as I will give them at least 25 better players.
That brings us back to Nani. He had the unenviable task of replacing Cristiano Ronaldo, and while that could never be expected, he has proved many critics wrong by evolving into a world-class player in his own right. Along with Giggs, who appears to get better year on year, they have been consistently brilliant in a faltering side.
Defensively, United are in good shape, with Van Der Sar much like Giggs, in the fact that he improves year on year despite his age, and it’s worth mentioning that the showdown on May 28 will be his last ever match. Nemanja Vidic is still a colossus in the heart of the defence, but question marks have been raised as of late with regards to Rio Ferdinand.
The veteran defender has had a lot of time off with injuries, and looks far from his peak. Perhaps he will be a weakness that Guardiola’s side can exploit.
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