Monday, April 16, 2007

FA Cup Semi-final: Manchester United 4 - 1 Watford

This was actually a more nerve-wracking game than the scoreline suggests -- mostly due to the gaping holes where the United defence used to be. With Neville, Vidic, Silvestre and O'Shea all injured, they started the game with a rejigged back line that included Patrice Evra at right-back. (You do see right-footed players at left-back quite often, but they're usually competent with either foot. Evra? Not so much.)

And then they lost Rio Ferdinand to a groin strain in the first half, which meant another reshuffle, with Evra moving to the left and Heinze in the middle (Why didn't he start there, you ask, and then move Wes Brown to right-back? Heinze does play centre-back for Argentina, after all. Well, yes, but it's on the left of a back three. And I don't think he's quite tall enough for a traditional centre-half.) Oh, and then we had Darren Fletcher at right-back. That's the sort of thing that makes me pine for John O'Shea -- although Fletcher did acquit himself reasonably well.

Having said all that, United got off to a good start with an early goal from Rooney, and were continuing to pile on the pressure. But then, to compound their problems at the back, Van der Sar got whacked in the face (part of the treatment involved getting what looked like tampons shoved up his nose) and was still looking a bit groggy when play restarted and Watford scored, with a quasi-bicycle kick from Hameur Bouazza. I have to wonder if Van der Sar might've saved it in other circumstances -- and he didn't have the best game again on Saturday -- but then again, with the way Kuszszszak has played recently, they were probably just as well off leaving Van der Sar in.

United recovered the lead almost immediately, with Rooney setting up Ronaldo. Rooney was United's best player, and he, Ronaldo and Alan Smith were combining well. Smith has surprised me, actually -- I didn't see him as the ideal choice to play as the lone striker, but he's been very good in the past couple matches. Although there were a few chances in this game where I thought he should have taken a shot instead of trying to set Rooney up for the hat-trick.

Watford started the second half much more strongly, keeping United pinned back for quite a while. The makeshift defence were having real trouble dealing with set pieces and clearing their lines, especially against a big, physical team like Watford -- every single one of their players apparently built like a built shithouse. But Rooney scored again for United to give them some breathing room, and there was even a goal for Kieran Richardson, coming on as a sub -- in both cases, Watford guilty of some shocking defending of their own, as they were giving United acres of space.

I guess it was a comfortable win in the end, but now I'm nervous about how United will do in the next few games, until they can get a few more players back from injury. Come back, John O'Pies! All is forgiven!

In the other game, fucking Chelsea beat Blackburn 2-1, although they had to take the game to extra time to do it. Mourinho, predictably, is whining about his team being tired from playing so many games, and I have no sympathy whatsoever. Especially considering that United are playing in exactly the same number of competitions right now.

I will grant you, though, that it's probably less tiring to build up a three- or four-goal lead and then coast than it is to scrap your way to a last-minute winner the way Chelsea always seem to do. But I guess we can't all win 7-1.

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