It’s been a big week of sport, but there are those who would argue that it usually is in this house. Such cynicism….
Anyway, to deal with matters chronologically, I should start by reflecting on Manchester United’s….sorta, kinda thrilling….comeback in Tuesday’s Champions League game to draw 3-3 with CSKA Moscow. The thing is, was it actually that thrilling? The large numbers of empty red seats on show at The Vatican would suggest that no-one in Mancunia was particularly thrilled. Rather amusingly, the stadium announcer gave out the attendance as 73 thousand and change, which was perhaps a reference to the number of errors made by our defence rather than the number of bored onlookers. The problem for United – and I’m not sure I have detected it anywhere else – is that the whole club has become like an ageing Casanova, needing bizarre and increasingly salacious scenarios before they can…errr…get it up and get it on….if you’ll excuse the extended (ouch!) metaphor.
Another problem is that everyone is pining for Ronaldo. Sure, the manager and the TV gurus have tried to talk up Rooney and to be fair to New Dad, he did spice things up a bit when he came on. Even so, without Ronaldo and with United way clear in their group and, therefore, with the dull neccessities of the CL Group Phase virtually over, it’s all become a bit tedious. How the crowd would have thrilled to a slaloming run through the Russian defence by Ol’ Twinkletoes or one of those ludicrous 70-yard free-kicks that would virtually loop-the-loop before crashing into the back of the net. They would have thrilled to CR’s vanity, and smiled indulgently at his temper tantrums…anything to enliven things a bit.
As it was, on a dull rainy evening which benighted southerners think is Manchester’s default climate, United contrived a little excitement by conceding three goals with some pantomime defending which will be making Lampard, Drogba and the shaven-headed drones of West London slaver ahead of Sunday’s PL game at Stamford Bridge. The excitement, such as it was, came from the realisation that United were finally mounting (ooh-err!) some sustained pressure and that the game was heading for a big climax (Oh stop it….).
In the end, a Scholes header and a deflected Antonio Valencia shot gave United a point that they scarcely deserved and a place in the knockout phase of the Champions League, starting in February. United’s fans are (often rightly) castigated for their arrogance and it would seem that our years of serial CL qualification have produced something akin to catatonic indifference in all concerned until about the quarter-finals. Players and manager alike will blather on about professionalism, but where’s the passion? Spoiled rotten, we are…..
Cristiano – Missing you……..
However, no matter how turgid things might be at The Vatican, there is always plenty of distraction among those loveable rogues and noisy neighbours from Dipperland. The Benitez Soap Opera has moved into a new and compelling phase; after beating us recently, he was once again a Master of the Universe, then defeats at home to Lyon and away to Fulham reduced him to a sweaty and twitching caricature, muttering gnomically about focussing on his job and walking through storms with his head on backwards and suchlike. Thus to last night’s game in Lyon, which I half-watched out of a morbid sense of schadenfreude. Pleasing to be able to report, therefore, that Rafa’s boys did not disappoint – the manager showed a stroke of genius in replacing the lumpen Voronin with the laughably overpriced Babel, who then came up with two bits of play that will probably define his Liverpool career. First, cutting in from the left, he produced a bullet of a right-foot shot that flew into the top of the Lyon net. Simultaneous earth tremors on Merseyside were attributed to an attack of mass jaw-dropping among the local intelligentsia. Then, just a few minutes later, he found himself in an almost identical position on the left, cut in and produced a bullet of a right-foot shot….that went out for a throw-in on the far side of the pitch.
Then, of course, with the game in its dying moments and Scousers gambolling like so many acquitted Steven Gerrards in the Lyon stands, the French team equalised, qualifying them for the knock-out phase and leaving Liverpool’s presence in this year’s tournament hanging by a thread. Never mind lads, there’s always the Lancashire Senior Cup.
Rafa the Gaffer –Missing you already…..
Across the water, I’ m delighted to be able to report that the New York Yankees are the winners of this year’s World Series. In Game 6, played in The Bronx last night, they overcame the Philadelphia Phillies by 7-3, thanks to an astonishing performance by Hideki Matsui, who hit a two-run homer, a two-run single and a two-run double, all of which pretty much made the MVP Award for the series a formality, particularly as ‘Godzilla’ (as he’s known by Yankees fans) has batted pretty well throughout the series. With his contract up and with two dodgy knees, it’s unlikely that Matsui will be back in 2010, but if last night was his final fling, it was certainly a memorable one.
‘Godzilla’ – not missing much at all……..
Anyway, congratulations to all within the Yankees’ organisation on a thoroughly deserved win, the first since 2000. There will be a ‘Canyon of Heroes’ ticker-tape event in Manhattan on Friday and how I would love to be there…..oh well….