The wonders of football, eh? On two consecutive nights this week, I have been able to watch two of Europe’s footballing elite subjected to what I think is sometimes referred to as a ‘right doing’.
Tuesday night it was ‘El Clásico’ between Barcelona & Real Madrid, which for all the hype about United v The Dippers and Glasgow ‘Old Firm’ derbies, is quite clearly the world’s leading domestic club match – 11 World Cup winners on the pitch; nuff said.
However it didn’t really live up to its ‘classic’ billing, mainly because Barcelona were so dominant that it was never a genuine contest. José Mourinho could only sit and watch as the Barça midfield ran rings round his team. What a unit they are! Everyone talks about Messi, but he is just one-quarter of what must surely be the most effective midfield of all time. The fact that Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta are almost equally dangerous in possession means that any team that tries to target Messi runs the risk of handing the game over to the other three.
Barcelona have added the lethal David Villa to their options this season and he must be revelling in the service he’s getting. After Xavi and Pedro had given Barça the early advantage, Villa stuck twice inside a few second-half minutes thanks to two fabulous passes from Messi and any lingering optimism among the Madridistas was duly squashed. By the time substitute Jeffren toe-poked home a fifth, Sergio Ramos had been sent off for what’s best described as an assault on Messi and the Catalunyans were starting a fiesta in the stands. As for Madrid, there was no Kaka, no Higuain and Benzema, Özil and Khedira were nullified by their counterparts. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, he simply looked frustrated. Should have stayed in Manchester, Ronnie…
Talking of Mancunia, the second ‘doing’ of the week came for United at Upton Park last night as we crashed out of the League Cup to a West Ham side that combined desire with aggression and took our second string to the cleaners by a 4-0 scoreline.
United swaggered into this game off the back of another ‘doing’ – this one dished out to Blackburn by a 7-1 scoreline at Old Trafford on Saturday. Berba the Sulky Bulgar, having failed to score since his hat-trick against The Dippers back in September, had one of his ‘on’ days and was the game’s outstanding player in a game where everyone in red played well for the first time this season. Berbatov scored five goals of which the pick was the third, started by him in our left-back position and involving a cute backheel to Evra, followed by a superbly weighted crossfield ball to Nani on the right and a calm side-footed finish high into the net when Nani toed the ball back into his path. One of the goals of the season, for sure.
Of that team, only Anderson, who looked a player reborn against Blackburn, survived to run out at snowy Upton Park last night. West Ham, coached by the ever-lugubrious Avram Grant, played former United youngster Jonathan Spector in midfield and after Obertan had seen a low drive deflected on to the post by Green, Spector scored twice – his first goals in English football – and had another one disallowed as United’s makeshift team struggled to cope.
The simple truth was that Hernandez was ineffectual as the lone striker – he’s not big enough – and he got no help from Macheda when he came on. In midfield, Anderson did his best but Fletcher was poor alongside him and Giggs understandably looked as though he’d rather be tucked up in front of a roaring log fire at home. All of this just put more pressure on a ramshackle defence in which O’Shea and Evans conspired to turn in two of the worst performances I have seen from United defenders since about 1541. Evans, in particular, got a mauling from Carlton Cole in the second half…..yes, that’s right, Carlton Cole, the Emile Heskey manqué of our times.
Cole scored twice, thereby merely reinforcing the view that long-term, Jonny Evans just isn’t good enough as anything other than a squad player. As for O’Shea, his performances this season confirm that whatever talent he once had, it has long since headed south. Reputedly, he will pick up £80,000 this week (and every other week for the next 4 years); if ever we needed confirmation that the game has gone crazy, this must be it. If O’Shea or Evans had any conscience or dignity, they would offer to pay the club back for their shoddy, sub-standard work last night.
“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence. ”
Fergie sat swathed Buddha-like and impassive in coats, scarves and a red United hat that matched his complexion as the snowflakes swirled down. He must have been reflecting upon the fact that United have done pretty well playing the fringe players in this tournament, but how many of those ‘given a chance’ at this level have gone on to cement a first-team place? Not many…
Grant, meanwhile, prowled the touchline looking like a cross between Jar Jar Binks and a particularly grumpy bullfrog. His position is probably under threat and it would still be a surprise if he survives the season at West Ham, but his players did him proud last night. Simply put, they just wanted it more than United did and they got their reward.