AS Roma 0-2 Manchester United
Stadio Olimpico, April 1st 2008
On this day three years ago was one of the finest Manchester United European away performances of all-time. Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in either half gave United a 2-0 victory over Roma in the Champions League Quarter Final first leg tie at the Stadio Olimpico.
At the same stage the previous season, Roma defeated 10-man United 2-1 in a game that’s considered a tactical turning point for Sir Alex Ferguson. He saw Luciano Spalletti’s team line-up without a permanent frontman and utilise the deep-dropping striker in a way that allowed the wingers to push on past and become somewhat inside forwards.
The following season after acquiring Carlos Tevez it allowed Ferguson to play an interchangeable front-three of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez, who all understood their roles within the team and would work hard for the benefit of their team-mates.
Tevez was dropped from the three for the match in Rome and replaced with Park Ji-Sung who would work hard both pushing on past Ronaldo and provide extra protection for Wes Brown against Mirko Vucinic. Indeed Park’s effort led to him assisting Rooney (however fortuitously) when he reached a long-ball to head back across goal for Rooney to scramble in after a goalkeeping error.
Ronaldo played the so-called false nine role against the position’s pioneers that evening and did it spectacularly. Instead of just dropping deep centrally, he would drop into wide positions leaving Roma’s central defenders perplexed and creating the space for Rooney and Park to successfully use – as evidenced with United’s second goal.
This movement led to the opening goal when Ronaldo ran the best part of 50 yards from a central-midfield position to meet Paul Scholes’ deft chip with a thunderous header.
The result came just three days after a majestic victory over Aston Villa and gave the team and supporters a real belief that this United side could go on and win European football’s top prize for a third time.
United’s line-up that night
1. van der Sar; 6. Brown, 15. Vidic, 5. Ferdinand, 3. Evra; 18. Scholes, 16. Carrick, 13. Park, 8. Anderson, 10. Rooney; 7. Ronaldo. Substitutes: 4. Hargreaves, 22. O’Shea, 32. Tevez.