The hype going into this match was of course centered on the 7-1 thrashing that Roma took from Manchester United last season at this same stage. However, anyone with common sense could see that this match would have very little in common with that famous night.
For starters, this match was at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome not Old Trafford. Secondly, the teams had a slightly different feel about them with Roma missing their talisman Francesco Totti and hoping that their big No9, Mirko Vu?ini?, could supply them with a goal or two. United were missing Gary Neville through long-term injury.
One thing about the formations that were shown on TV, Ferguson decided to employ Ronaldo in the unusual role of a lone striker with Park, who was a bit of a surprise starter, and Rooney doing the hard work in behind him.
Roma lined up with their usual 5-man midfield and with United employing a 4-3-2-1/4-3-3 formation, the early going was a bit scattered. When United did get spells of possession, they moved the ball around leisurely and Roma did little to pressure them. Neither side showed a great deal of urgency in the early going. United were getting little wide play as their fullbacks were cautious, Wes Brown especially, of being hit on the counter-attack. Brown sat a bit deeper as the perceived threat of Mancini loomed. As the game wore on, it became clear that Mancini was not going to have much impact due to his poor decisions when he did get possession in the United half. This allowed Brown to venture forward a little more often and create more space for the United forwards.
One of the best battles of the night was seeing Cristiano Ronaldo, employed as a striker, going up against Philippe Mexes. Mexes did well for large spells to close Ronaldo down; making sure that he had little time or space when the ball was at his feet. Ronaldo took a fair amount of physical contact in the first half but I felt he spent too much time with his arms aloft and a pouty look on his face. His energy would be better spent getting up and getting back into the action. I felt the ref in charge had a decent game — he gave free-kicks when they made sense and bookings for repeated fouling.
Roma looked the more likely side to score in the first half as Vu?ini? continued to ask questions of the visiting defence. In the 28th minute, he turned Rio Ferdinand inside out and spooned his shot just over the bar. Shortly after this Nejmana Vidic injured his knee by landing awkwardly after challenging for a ball in the air. He was replaced at the 33 minute mark by John O’Shea. I had thought Wes Brown might move into central defence and O’Shea would come in at RB but Sir Alex obviously felt otherwise. I have to say that on reflection it makes as much sense to leave Brown out on the right as he has spent the majority of the season out there and O’Shea offers a little more size to go against a player like Vu?ini?.