To explain my lack of updates over the last week while not going over the extensively covered games against Chelsea, I’ll just give you a brief Beatnik MUFC overview of my week in Rhodes.
When the draw for the Champions League Quarter Final was made it was met with a sigh from yours truly and this was for two reasons; pessimism and regret.
Regardless of the troubles that Chelsea have had this season, I doubted United’s ability to beat them over the two legs. Predicting an away goals exit after a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge. The regret came from my absence; a holiday booked in January meant that I’d be in Greece for both legs.
Over those seven days in the largest Dodecanese island United showed a team spirit that is giving real credence to the claims that another treble could well be on.
A central-midfield in dire need of improvement and creativity? Not a bit of it, with Michael Carrick’s drastic return to pre-Champions League Final 2009 form and evergreen Ryan Giggs’ creative majesty.
Rooney’s performances in both games were superb and the swagger shown at Old Trafford on Tuesday night was a joy to behold. While he isn’t held in the same high regard as he once was amongst supporters, Rooney is beginning to look like he’s enjoying being a Manchester United player once again.
I arrived in Rhodes on the afternoon of the first leg. After the typical unpacking and settling period I went out for lunch in a magnificent restaurant named Louis’ in Rhodes town. While there I was served by a man named Giorgos – a former Panathinaikos midfielder and the restaurant’s eponymous owner. Louis was a big United fan, not so much nowadays – describing modern football as “theatre”, and his Red-shirted heroes were Gary Bailey, Frank Stapleton, Bryan Robson and Norman Whiteside.
I was worried there wouldn’t be any bars open showing the game because of it being the off-season but luckily enough Louis recommended a pub and I managed to catch both fixtures – unfortunately the Fulham game wasn’t on.
United were superb in both. Yes, we were lucky not to give away a penalty in the first-leg but after the luck we’ve had with decisions against Chelsea over the last few years we deserved a bit ourselves.
Chelsea started well at Old Trafford but after holding on for the first 20 minutes United kicked on and were just as impressive as at Stamford Bridge. The goalscorers, Hernandez and Park were brilliant and after being left out of the first-leg, so was Nani – whose persistence led to free-kicks aplenty, though the card-waving needs to be sacked-off quickly. Quite why Ramires complained about his red-card I’ll never know; just because it wasn’t a leg-breaking challenge doesn’t mean it isn’t a sending-off.
Now for a special mention for Edwin van der Sar. While a lot of the accolades are quite rightly going to 37-year-old Ryan Giggs, the 40-year-old Dutchman is showing no signs of decline and was outstanding in both legs. One more year please Edwin.
So now United have a Semi-Final against Schalke to look forward to either side of a potential title-deciding clash at The Emirates against Arsenal, and a repeat of 1999’s treble doesn’t look as unlikely as recently as it did not even a month ago.
Bring on City.
Chelsea 0-1 United
Stamford Bridge, April 6th 2011
1. van der Sar 9; 21. Rafael 7(17. Nani 51 6), 5. Ferdinand 7, 15. Vidic 7, 3. Evra 6; 25. Valencia 7, 16. Carrick 9, 11. Giggs 9, 13. Park 7(12. Smalling 90+4); 10. Rooney 8, 14. Hernandez 6(9. Berbatov 78)
Referee: A Undiano Mallenco
United 2-0 Fulham
Berbatov 12, Valencia 32.
Old Trafford, April 9th 2011
29. Kuszczak; 22. O’Shea, 12. Smalling, 15. Vidic, 3. Evra; 8. Anderson (20. Fabio 76), 18. Scholes, 28. Gibson, 25. Valencia (7. Owen 73), 17. Nani (16. Carrick 87); 9. Berbatov.
Referee: Mike Jones
United 2-1 Chelsea
Hernandez 43, Park 77.
Old Trafford, April 12th 2011
1. van der Sar 7; 22. O’Shea 6, 5. Ferdinand 8, 15. Vidic 6, 3. Evra 6; 13. Park 8, 16. Carrick 7, 11. Giggs 9, 17. Nani 8(25. Valencia 75); 10. Rooney 8, 14. Hernandez 8.
Referee: Bartolo Benquerenca