Thursday, April 12, 2007

Champions League Quarter-finals: Manchester United 7 - 1 Roma

Wow. Just, wow.

What else do you say to that? Roma had only conceded five goals in their entire Champions League campaign up to this point; at Old Trafford they very nearly matched that in the first half.

So were Roma really bad, or were United really good? A bit of both, I'd say. Roma needed to batten down the hatches after United's first goal, which they utterly failed to do, and after that three-goal flurry they just gave up. United, meanwhile, were at their best. Sharp passing, fluid movement, great finishing...they did it all. And they did it all with Darren Fletcher anchoring the midfield.

(I joke about that, but actually I think Fletcher had quite a good game -- the first time in a long while that I haven't assumed he'd blackmailed Sir Alex to get into the lineup. He's never going to be the most skilled player, but he was solid, and he harried the Roma midfield all night; I think they were missing a player like that, with both Perotta and Taddei out.)

United lined up to match Roma in a 4-2-3-1, with Giggs pulling the strings behind Alan Smith, and Rooney and Ronaldo on the wings -- a formation I normally hate when Sir Alex tries it, but for whatever reason it worked. (My own theory is that calling it 4-2-3-1 instead of 4-5-1 meant the attacking players felt like they had more licence to get forward, rather than the overly cautious way they usually approach European ties.)

Roma started the game with a decent spell of pressure; I wonder if things would have turned out differently if Totti's early shot had been on target instead of just wide. But instead it was United scoring first, as Ronaldo fed Carrick, who placed it perfectly past Doni in the Roma net. That opened the floodgates, as United scored twice more in the next 10 minutes, with goals from Smith and Rooney -- in both cases a combination of slide-rule passes from Giggs and defending so bad it was like watching Newcastle in disguise.

Ronaldo made it four just before halftime. He'd been dancing around defenders all night like he was protected by a forcefield or something, and this time they made the mistake of giving him space to shoot and he drilled the ball in at the near post. Then another one on the other side of halftime, from a Giggs cross, and again some woeful Roma defending. United's defence might be kind of shaky at the moment too, but it's hard to tell when you keep the ball in the other half all game.

Things calmed down a bit after Carrick's second goal -- making it 6-0, with Doni once again rooted to the spot. I think Roma might have done just as well to play without a keeper and bring on an extra outfield player instead, because all he did was pick the ball out of his own net and model a jersey that looked like something out of Star Trek. Unfortunately for Roma, there's no such thing as a mercy rule in Champions League football. Although United did the next best thing by bringing on Kieran Richardson.

Roma did get a consolation goal (very small consolation), a gorgeous volley hit on the turn by De Rossi. But United hit back for a seventh, from Patrice Evra, playing out of position at right-back for absolutely no reason I can think of, apart from maybe to rub some Italian noses in it.

Just watch it for yourself. It's like a goal-of-the-month competition in the space of 90 minutes.

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