Undefeated and Underwhelming: Manchester United’s 2012-13 Champions League
I don’t know about you, but as a fan of the Red Devils, I still feel burning shame from last year’s stinging group stage exit, and am not entirely convinced the ship has been righted. I still feel there is something definitely missing this time around. Thank God we were blessed with an easy group once again, but failing to give dominant performances against much weaker sides has left me perspiring a little more than I’m comfortable with. Let’s take a long look at their form out of England, shall we?
In 2011-12 Champions League play Manchester United drew Benfica, Basel, and Otelul Galati. This should have certainly been an easy group to advance from. Benfica can play, no question, but Basel and Otelul shouldn’t really challenge at all.
Despite an opening match draw at Benfica, Sir Alex Ferguson elected to start a questionable line-up against Basel. They luckily jumped to an early 2-0 lead, but then were criticized for treating Basel as if they were a joke. It showed as Basel netted thrice while United were lucky that Ashley Young equalized in extra time to escape total embarrassment at Old Trafford.
After another draw with Benfica, this time at Old Trafford, United had to go to Basel and collect just a draw to advance. However the un thinkable happened…. Basel had beaten the giants, and the Red Devils would not see the round of 16. Many were criticized, but an overall feeling that Ferguson and the players took teams too lightly seemed the common sentiment.
United decided they weren’t too proud, and took their side to the Europa League Cup, where teams of their stature aren’t supposed to go. Technically they barely did compete, splitting wins with Ajax, but having a one-goal advantage on the aggregate and escaping a late goalpost scare that would have seen them out the door again. Oh, the horror!
The Devils then hosted Athletic Bilbao where they were shocked in a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford. Now, United fans may complain that Bilbao scored their opening goal offside and their third goal was off a poor free kick call, but still, a second chance was given and they just needed to accept what happened and go to Spain with vengeance and beat the Spanish side by two tallies. Instead they went with a questionable line-up including inexperienced Paul Pogba and Tom Cleverly, eventually losing to Bilbao, and once again were walking away from European football with their tail between their legs.
After this terrible display, which still haunts me I might add, when I saw this year’s 2012-13 Champions League draw, I was happy to see it was another easy group, but obviously wasn’t getting over-confident given last year’s debacle. This year’s draw included Galatasaray, Braga, and CFR Cluj.
This time around Sir Alex says he will not be taking any risks with his combinations, and played his first team in the opening match at home with Galatasaray. However, despite winning the match 1-0, Galatasaray proved they could easily play with the Devils and were also denied a questionable penalty shot early in the match.
Next, United travelled to Romania to take on a club whose entire payroll probably doesn’t even accumulate to Wayne Rooney’s wages. Again Ferguson fielded a strong line-up, although I think there was a couple of names that weren’t exactly the starting XI. Nonetheless, it was Cluj that scored first but that was quickly followed by an RVP double, to give the Devils a 2-1 win.
Again, this was not exactly something to be ecstatic about considering at one point they were losing to a team that really has no business being on the same field with them.
Next, it was yesterday’s battle at home with Portuguese side Braga. Well, it was 2-0 Braga after just 20 minutes. Ferguson had Michael Carrick playing CB. Huh? Why? I was seeing last year’s problems all over again, but sure enough United battled back to win the thriller, 3-2.
Again, this result has left me unconvinced that Manchester United are prepared for Champions League football right now. They are a team who is totally built for the English Premier League, which is a different style of footy. In Europe it seems to be a slower pace where you have to be much more tactical and need to play more of a counter-attacking style with your backs gathering the ball, slowing play down a little and making proper passes to the midfield. The midfield use these “tactics”, to get the ball for a finishing striker.
Whereas in England it is more of a goal scoring battle, with many goals also coming from set pieces. Ferguson likes to use backs like Rafael, and newly acquired Alexander Buttner. He also oftentimes throws Antonio Valencia as a back. These backs are not their to defend at all. I really feel that Ferguson must buy some more stay-at-home defenders that have some size and strength to them for the purpose of CL play. For me a great example of this type would be Arsenal buying German CB Per Mertesacker for only 8m pounds.
There are defenders out their that United can find to build up their defense. They have the goal scoring up front, they need to keep the ball out of their net and play more relaxed in their own area. It seems to me that every time a ball is whipped into United’s box it is a scramble to get it cleared if it’s not already in the back of the net.
Either way, I definitely think their needs to be change somewhere for this team to have a successful Champions League run, because their past 13 matches in Europe have not been against opponents who are anywhere near the best, and they have not shown themselves to be one of the best either!
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